CHESHIRE Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has sent shock waves through the local criminal underworld after disrupting the activity of crime gangs by infiltrating encrypted devices.
Over the past two months detectives have been monitoring a bespoke encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals, as part of a Europe-wide investigation working with law enforcement agencies across the continent.
Unbeknown to those criminals in Cheshire, the SOCU has followed their every move, building intelligence which has led to:
• The arrest of seven men
• Around five kilos of drugs seized including cannabis and cocaine
• £92,000 cash recovered
Detectives have also seized lifestyle items including:
• Designer clothing worth in excess of £100,000
• Jewellery including high value watches, motorbikes, motor cars, mountain bikes and devices exceeding £100,000
A key part of the action taken also involved detectives mitigating the serious threats made to the lives of those associated with organised crime.
Two months ago, the bespoke global service called EncroChat was cracked by international law enforcement.
Since then Cheshire Police has been part of a large-scale investigation led by the National Crime Agency under the codename Operation Venetic.
The operation also involved regional organised crime units and police forces across the country.
The EncroChat had 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK. It was being used for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.
The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make VOIP calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely have no other conventional smart phone functionality and cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.
On Thursday 2 July the EncroChat servers were shut down by French and Dutch authorities.
Detective Chief Inspector Giles Pierce, from Cheshire Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “The activity that has taken place over the last ten weeks will send shock waves through the criminal world.
“I have had a dedicated team monitoring and building the intelligence around this tactic to identify those engaged in some of the highest level of serious and organised crime.
“This has led to a number of arrests as well as large amounts of money, drugs and designer items seized. We have also mitigated multiple threats made to the lives of those associated with organised crime in Warrington and Widnes.
“We have been one step ahead of this criminality and we will remain relentless in our pursuit against those involved in serious and organised to make Cheshire a much safer place.”
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire David Keane added: “I would like to commend the work of the Serious and Organised Crime Unit who have been able to infiltrate encrypted devices used by criminals as part of a huge National Crime Agency operation.
“This sends a stark message to anyone thinking of operating in this type of criminality that police in Cheshire are working to disrupt this type of activity and make our communities safer.”
If you believe serious and organised crime is taking place in your area please contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or Cheshire Police on 101.