A mammoth trial centring on activities in an underground bunker in a German town where criminal godfather George ‘The Penguin’ Mitchell was developing an encrypted phone system has got underway.
More than 14 months have been set aside at the district court in Trier where evidence this week heard that Mitchell was a regular visitor to the bunker and that he was working with dark net expert Herman Xennt to create the phone system.
Eight people have gone on trial, four Dutch, three German and one Bulgarian, charged with nearly 250,000 different offences relating to facilitating criminals transaction online in drugs, contract killings, money laundering and child abuse images.
The ringleader, who cannot be named in German media, is Johann Hermann Xennt who the Sunday World identified as an associate of Mitchell when we tracked down The Penguin to the cyberbunker facility in 2015.
The NATO cold war bunker was raided by more than 600 police in September 2019 after a lengthy probe into dark net activities there.
Servers and computers were confiscated during the raid in preparation for the trial which is expected to continue until at least December 2021. Court hearings will be held twice a week until all the evidence is heard.
While Mitchell was under investigation by police and was at one point suspected of being in charge of the bunker, he slipped the net after a fallout with Xennt over money.
The Sunday World previously revealed details of the secret police files which contained transcripts of bugged phone-calls and details of warrants presented to the court describing Mitchell as a major international drug lord with investments all over the world.
More than 100 witnesses are expected to be heard over the course of the trial and already two have referred to Mitchell as being a regular at the bunker.
The trial will focus on how the bunker, in a picturesque wine region, was turned into a hub to facilitate organised crime.
The bunker in Germany’s Mosel Valley, offered so ‘bullet proof’ networks to clients.
Wily Mitchell, who went by the name of the mysterious 'Mr Green', escaped prosecution despite being the focus of undercover cops for years and being suspected of being Xennt’s boss and the true financier of the operation.
Sunday World first revealed his ties to Traben Trarbach and the bizarre looking Dutchman Xennt in 2015 but it took officers another four years to complete their investigation into his links to the Bunker – giving Mitchell plenty of time to move away.
According to German media the trial will break new legal ground as it is the first time that charges have not been brought against the Darknet operators but those accused of making the technology available to them.
Xennt has claimed that he knew nothing about the content on the 403 servers which were seized during the massive raids.
German police files seen by the Sunday World indicate that at one point officers investigating the goings on in the bunker believed that Mitchell was the boss.
They repeatedly sought warrants to tap his phones as he met with senior criminals, spoke in code about suspected drug deals and even chatted with his lover Khadiba Bouchiba.
A lengthy article in the New Yorker by journalist Ed Caesar detailed the Sunday World’s investigations and revealed how Mitchell met Xennt when he was dealing in stolen computer parts in Holland more than two decades ago.
Mitchell had been arrested in the Netherlands in 1998 after he was caught unloading a shipment of computer parts and spent a year in jail.
While police across Europe would go on to describe him as a major international narcotics tracker in the decades that followed the significance of the computer part bust is only beginning to become apparent.
In his lengthy investigation Caesar describes how businessman Martijn Burger remembered Xennt and Mitchell spending time together around the turn of the millennium.
“Back then, Burger did not know of Mitchell’s status in the criminal world and teasingly called him Charlie Chaplin, because of his gait. Burger recalled that Mitchell was often accompanied by glamorous young women, and carried a small bag containing ‘ten to twelve’ Nokia phones, each with its phone number written on the back,” wrote Caesar.
Mitchell’s early obsession with using a network of phones would explain discoveries made by German police about him during their wire tap investigations.
As revealed in the Sunday World Mitchell was named as the number one target in the huge investigation as he was watched and bugged while visiting associates at the underground bunker.
Secret police files revealed how officers in Europe believe that Mitchell deals directly with Columbian Cartels, supplies drugs and weapons to Northern Ireland, imports tonnes of cocaine into Europe, floods Holland with heroin and is under investigation for money laundering in Spain.
Officers believe that Mitchell travelled Europe as he made plans to set up his own encrypted phone network out of the German bunker and that he hoped to make a killing and sell €1,200 a unit blackberries coupled with a €3,000 secure app with an annual service fee of up to €50,000 to a network of criminals.
The files show that phones were shipped to customers in Bogota and Medellin. However when German police eventually swooped on the bunker the Penguin was long gone having fallen out with Xennt over money and the way he was planning to run the business.
At one point during the probe prosecutors applied to have 16 of Mitchell’s phones tapped but despite the huge volume of time and resources put into the operation they were hampered by the secret language and codewords used by the pensioner criminals.
An undercover investigator who worked at the bunker as a gardener will also give evidence of what he saw inside.
It is expected that Mitchell’s visit and his move to Traben Trarbach in 2015 will be heard along with his penchant for strip clubs, gin and tonics and breakfasts by the river.