Multi-million pound conspiracy uncovered in the East Midlands after cops crack criminal cypher
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More than £2 million in cash has been seized by regional officers, as part of the UK’s most significant law enforcement operation ever.
Over the last few weeks, officers and staff from the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) have been working closely with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and a number of forces on a series of investigations linked to an international inquiry.
The regional action has resulted in the seizure of £2,191,200 in cash and £52kg of Class A drugs, and 29 arrests. Of particular note, were the investigations into two prominent gangs.
The first is believed to have operated out of Derbyshire, with links to London and Luton. Enforcement in all three areas in June led to the seizure of £1.4 million in bank notes, gold bullion worth more than £6,000 and 19 vehicles thought to have been purchased with criminal cash. Eleven people were arrested.
The second organised crime group (OCG) is thought to have roots in Nottinghamshire, with reach into Liverpool, and a number of warrants in the county has led to the seizure of 7.5kg in cocaine and heroin, and £620,000 in cash. Five people were arrested, with information gained from the wider inquiry helping to complete the investigation.
The two gangs may have been operating separately in the region, but they had one thing in common: They were both utilising a secret criminal communications network to conduct their illicit business.
And they weren’t alone. Around 60,000 serious and organised criminals across the globe were using ‘EncroChat’ in a bid to evade police surveillance. But their illegal activities came to an abrupt end last month, after a coordinated strike saw thousands of arrests and significant drugs, firearms and cash seizures.
Earlier in the year, a cross-continental operation resulted in French and Dutch authorities infiltrating this encrypted platform, laying bare details of thousands of handsets and their users, as well as revealing millions of messages ripe for analysis. The intelligence gained from this information was then passed to the relevant country to action.
The NCA coordinated the UK response — codenamed Operation Venetic — in partnership with the nation’s nine Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) and supported by all 43 forces. So far, it has resulted in the seizure of more than £50 million in cash, 74 firearms, more than two tonnes of Class A and B drugs, and nearly 700 arrests.
Today (Thursday 2 July 2020) EncroChat servers were shut down, putting an end to this criminal subterfuge.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Kirby heads up EMSOU, which includes the East Midlands’ ROCU. He said: “By using EncroChat, these criminals thought they could conduct their illegal enterprises beneath our radar. They thought we didn’t know what they were up to. What they didn’t know was that from the very means by which they were plotting their crimes, we were taking notes; and this has made for some compelling evidence.
“As the country was under lockdown, these criminals continued to traffic their illicit wares and inflict incredible harm to our communities. But as they continued to operate, so too did we.
"The intelligence garnered under Operation Venetic has not only informed some of our existing operations, but has also exposed the scale and reach of some of our most serious and organised criminals.
“The results we have seen both in the region and across the country reflect some impressive talent and dedication, and a massive coordinated effort, not only to arrest suspected perpetrators and seize deadly drugs and weapons, but also in preventing and disrupting countless other crimes.
“I hope this work not only reassures our communities of the skills, capabilities and sheer dogged determination within policing and our partners to seek out and prosecute those who pose the most serious risks, but also acts as a warning to those who continue to inflict harm in our society, that there is nowhere to hide.”
Details of the operation have, until this point, been withheld to ensure maximum impact of police activity on the OCGs involved.
Paul Williamson, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, said: “This piece of activity in the East Midlands and across the UK was unprecedented. It is without doubt the broadest and deepest ever operation into serious organised crime, with the people targeted at the top end of the criminal tree.
“The NCA has worked with international partners and every single police force across the UK, but the extraordinary results we have had is testimony to the partnership we have with Regional Organised Crime Units like EMSOU.
“By working together we have had tremendous success in penetrating organised criminal networks, seizing huge amounts of criminal cash, stopping firearms and drugs reaching our streets and protecting the people of the East Midlands.”
Chief Constable Steve Jupp, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for serious organised crime, added: “I want to emphasise that this work is the culmination of meticulous planning to tackle the most serious and organised crime groups that have been working in our communities.
“Every UK police force has worked together to carry out these warrants, and I’m extremely proud of their hard work and determination, which doesn’t stop here.
“This sort of activity is just one aspect of our continued fight to tackle serious and organised crime. I hope this sends a clear message to the public of our determination to rid communities of this sort of criminalisation.”