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encrypted chat Dubliner Aymen Shebani to face trial for large scale distribution of cocaine

Shebani is one of more than 30 men who have been arrested in NI as a result of the NCA led Operation Venetic

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Shebani pictured in Newry

Shebani pictured in Newry

Shebani pictured in Newry

A Dublin man is to go on trial accused of being “heavily involved” in the large scale distribution of cocaine and cannabis after today denying the offences.

Appearing at Newry Crown Court by video-link from the offices of Madden and Finucane, 39-year-old Aymen Shebani entered not guilty pleas to each of the six charges against him.

When Shebani first appeared on the charges, prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer told the court that “essentially, this began when the police were able to access encrypted phone data, incoming and outgoing text messages as well as images being sent.”

Shebani, originally from Dublin but with a bail address at Carney Hall in Newry, faces two charges of conspiring with “takefive” to possess a firearm and/or ammunition with intent to endanger life.

He is also accused of conspiring with “scarabsugar” to import cannabis, being concern in an offer to supply class A cocaine, entering a criminal arrangement and conspiring with “stormtequila” to possess cannabis with intent to supply, all alleged to have been committed between 5 May and 4 June 2020.

Shebani is one of more than 30 men who have been arrested in Northern Ireland as a result of the National Crime Agency (NCA) led Operation Venetic as police forces across Europe use information gleaned from previously encrypted mobile phone to investigate and prosecute those allegedly involved in organised crime and drug importation.

In an earlier hearing, outlining how encrypted phones do not use the same communication networks as normal phones with data allowances costing the user around £1,500 every six months, Mr Steer said that similarly to other cases which have recently been before the courts, “police don’t have the handset but they believe that the messages can be attributed to this defendant circumstantially by reason of their content.”

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Aymen Shebani

Aymen Shebani

Aymen Shebani

He said the police had been able to access a “very large number of messages referring to cocaine and cannabis, importing drugs from Spain, the movement of very large amounts of cash and quantities of drugs.”

“Also messages which referred to a firearm using the slang words of ‘using a drill’,” said Mr Steer claiming that Shebani’s encrypted username was “waterquail.”

Turning to how police believe they can connect Shebani to the hacked data, the lawyer detailed how the user ‘waterquail’ had sent another user a message on 26 May “that he’d had a baby boy on Friday.”

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Aymen Shebani

Aymen Shebani

Aymen Shebani

Mr Steer conceded that while there is “nothing terribly significant” on Shebani’s criminal record in the South, the lawyer claimed that “he is known to have criminal connections to organised crime groups in Dublin.”

Following Shebani’s denials on Wednesday, prosecuting counsel Geraldine McCullough told the court she estimated the trial, scheduled to begin on 1 June, would take around five days to hear.

Defence counsel Aaron Thompson said revealed that numerous expert reports will need to be obtained ahead of any trial and freeing Shebani on continuing bail, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said he would review the case on 11 May.

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