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Law Enforcement Cracks Communications System, Cracks Down on Crime

French and Dutch law enforcement and judicial authorities from Europol and Eurojust announced on 2 July that a joint investigation team dismantled encrypted phone network EncroChat. The network was widely used by criminal networks, enabling a large number of ongoing criminal investigations to make quick progress across Europe.

According to a Europol and Eurojust press release, the three-month project investigation made it possible to intercept, share, and analyze millions of messages sent and received by criminals when planning crimes, and the messages were read in real time by law enforcement officials.

“The information has already been relevant in a large number of ongoing criminal investigations, resulting in the disruption of criminal activities including violent attacks, corruption, attempted murders, and large-scale drug transports,” the release said. “Certain messages indicated plans to commit imminent violent crimes and triggered immediate action.” 

Since March 2020, the French Gendarmerie’s task force—comprising more than 60 officers—led the investigation and has monitored the communications of thousands of criminals. France has not commented further on the ongoing investigations or any results. Within The Netherlands, Europol said the information collected in the EncroChat case has been provided to agents working approximately 100 ongoing criminal investigations.

Through the information gleaned from the encrypted chat service, “dozens of other crimes including planned assassinations and torture were prevented,” said Andy Kraag of the Dutch police’s National Criminal Investigations Division.

The effects of the investigation reverberate far beyond its epicenter in France and The Netherlands. So far, more than 740 arrests have been made just in the United Kingdom after EncroChat messages were intercepted and decoded. More than two tons of drugs, 77 guns, more than 28 million Etizolam pills (street Valium), and £54 million ($67.5 million) in suspect cash have been seized so far, according to the UK National Crime Agency (NCA).

EncroChat had approximately 60,000 subscribers, who could use the system’s features such as self-destructing messages and panic wipe functions—which enables the user to delete all data on a device by entering a four-digit code from the lock-screen, BBC reports. The NCA said that the system has been used as a “criminal marketplace” to coordinate the supply and transport of drugs, guns, and weapons across the world.

Within the United Kingdom, dozens of organized crime groups have been dismantled, primarily in London and northwest England, the NCA said.

Dutch police said they have arrested more than a hundred suspects, seized thousands of kilograms of drugs, dismantled various drug labs, and seized around €20 million ($22.6 million) in cash, according to Reuters.

On 13 June, the system realized the platform had been compromised and sent a message to its users telling them to dispose of their devices, the NCA noted. The EncroChat servers have now been shut down.