EncroChat: European authorities compromise phone network to arrest 'untouchable' criminals in sting

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By Rachael Kennedy
Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police

Hundreds of people from some of Europe's biggest crime groups have been arrested after a huge sting operation stemming from the infiltration of an encrypted phone network.

French police cracked into the secure communication tool by EncroChat after opening investigations in 2017, according to a report from Europol on Thursday, allowing them to read messages sent by those involved in organised crime.

Jannine van den Berg, chief of the Dutch National Police Force, compared the access they gained as though "we were sitting at the table where criminals were chatting among themselves".

After several years of cross-border investigations, involving France, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Europol and Eurojust, police were able to thwart murder attempts, drug trafficking, arms sales and torture.

More than 700 people have since been arrested as part of a huge sting operation in the UK, where £54 million (€59.9m) has been recovered, along with 77 firearms and two tonnes of drugs.

In the Netherlands, more than a hundred arrests have been made, along with the recovery of €20 million, more than 8,000kg of cocaine, 1,200kg of crystal meth, dozens of firearms, watches and dozens of cars, some of which had hidden compartments.

At least 19 synthetic drugs labs have also been uncovered.

French authorities, meanwhile, say they have been monitoring the conversations of thousands of criminals, but have declined to comment further on the results of the raids.

The EncroChat network is believed to have around 60,000 users worldwide, who received a message from the company in mid-June to warn them the system had been infiltrated and told users to throw the phones away.

In a statement, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the raids marked the "most significant activity" in her career taken against organised crime as she praised investigators involved in taking down criminals "who thought they were beyond the reach of the law".

"This is just the beginning, there are many more people we are investigating," she said.

"We know who they are and we have seen what they are doing and who they are doing it with. We will not rest until they have seen justice."