Police have seized machine guns, grenades, two tonnes of drugs, luxury cars and arrested 746 “Mr and Mrs Bigs” as part of a massive international sting, made possible by the hacking of a military-grade encrypted communication system used by organised criminals.
Some £54million in cash was also seized in the operation, which involved thousands of officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA), regional crime squads and every police force in the UK. It is one of the biggest operations of its kind.
After four years of work by international teams, French investigators managed to access Encrochat, an encrypted platform used by 60,000 people worldwide, including around 10,000 in the UK, for what law enforcement agencies claim were purely criminal purposes, PA Media reports.
The NCA said the operation had “punched huge holes in the UK organised crime network” and has seized in the UK alone:
- Over £54million in criminal cash
- 77 firearms, including an AK47 assault rifle, sub machine guns, handguns, four grenades, and over 1,800 rounds of ammunition
- More than two tonnes of Class A and B drugs
- Over 28 million Etizolam pills (street Valium) from an illicit laboratory
- 55 high value cars, and 73 luxury watches
Encrochat, which charged £1,500 for a device on a six-month contract, sent out a warning to users in early June to say that its servers had been hacked by a government entity.
This left investigators with a race against time to make the most of the wealth of information available on the platform, targeting “Mr and Mrs Bigs” before they could cover their tracks.
International investigators were also going after the team who ran Encrochat, who they said led “luxury lifestyles”, although the technology itself is not illegal.
National Crime Agency (NCA) director of investigations Nikki Holland said the breach was like “having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country”.
She said: “This is the biggest and the most significant law enforcement...