Shebani is one of more than 30 men who have been arrested in NI as a result of the NCA led Operation Venetic
Appearing at Newry Magistrates Court by videolink from the offices of Madden and Finucane, 38-year-old Aymen Shebani confirmed he understood the six charges against him and that he was not objecting to the Preliminary Enquiry, the legal process necessary to elevate every criminal case to the Crown Court.
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, conspiring with “scarabsugar” to import cannabis, being concern in an offer to supply class S cocaine, entering a criminal arrangent 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 NI as a result of the 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.
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.”
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.”
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 court heard how all of that ties in with Shebani in that he has a brother called Niall and when cops raided his house on 15 June, Shebani’s partner Ms Bollard was there with the couples’ newborn son who has the same name as the baby referred to in the intercepted messages.
The court has heard that Shebani was jailed for six months in 2010 for concealing criminal property in that he had failed to declare 62,000 Euro and $3,000 that had been found in his then home near Derry.
The money was found in an apartment at Dunhugh Manor in Newbuildings during a search in November 2009 with Shebani claiming he had earned the money from buying and selling cars.
Mr Steer said Shebani had been on bail for those charges but had absconded for over two months, highlighting that “he is from Dublin” with connections to the south so there was a risk of flight.
He said 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.”
While none of those alleged facts were opened on Wednesday, a prosecuting lawyer submitted there was a Prima Facie case against Sjebani, a submission conceded by defence counsel Aaron Thompson.
The court clerk told Shebani that although not obliged to he had the right to comment on the charges and to call evidence to the PE on his own behalf but he declined the opportunity.
Freeing Shebani on bail with a condition that his £40,000 cash surety continues and extending legal aid to allow a senior QC to be instructed, District Judge Ann Marshall returned the case to Newry Crown Court, scheduling the arraignment for 8 March.