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special investigation Secret German police files reveal five-year undercover operation into George ‘The Penguin’ Mitchell’s cyber crime gang

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Sunday World investigations Editor Nicola Tallant confronts George 'the Penguin' Mitchell and his business partner Herman Xennt

Sunday World investigations Editor Nicola Tallant confronts George 'the Penguin' Mitchell and his business partner Herman Xennt

Kevin Mc Nulty

Sunday World investigations Editor Nicola Tallant confronts George 'the Penguin' Mitchell and his business partner Herman Xennt

George ‘the Penguin’ Mitchell’s massive global criminal empire is exposed in today’s Sunday World as we publish secret files from a five-year ‘wire-tap’ operation carried out by German cops.

The explosive files show how German police forces tapped 16 of Mitchell’s phones as part of an extensive investigation into a ‘cyber crime’ bunker controlled by the veteran Dublin mobster.

They reveal how Mitchell was linked to major cocaine seizures in Spain – as well as listing his extensive criminal contacts with the Colombian Cartels and Europe’s biker gangs.

Mitchell is named as the number one target in the massive undercover investigation and officers believe he was the boss of a cyber-crime gang working out of the former cold war bunker in the heart of the Mosel Valley, which was raided last year by 650 German police officers.

The files reveal how Mitchell:

Dealt directly with Colombian cartels and imported tonnes of cocaine into Europe;

Held a secret summit with the head of Europe’s feared Bandido biker gang in Majorca;

Was the controlling owner of the massive cyber-crime bunker in Germany

Was paranoid and spoke in code, referring to ‘oranges’ on the phone.

They also claim he may have been involved in a Kinahan cartel murder in 2014 and had a role in the feud between the mob and the Hutch gang, although garda sources claim he has stayed firmly neutral.

The wiretaps and covert surveillance placed on Mitchell from 2015 detail how he met with the head of the ‘Bandidos’ biker gang and a leading figure in the Hells Angels in Germany in a bid to flog encrypted phones to the gang, along with an app that would keep their activities under the radar.

Sources say the business was The Penguin’s retirement dream and offered him a way into unregulated but legitimate business while using his vast criminal contacts to attract customers.

He planned to sell the expensive €1,200-a-unit Blackberry phones – coupled with a €3,000 secure app for communications – with an annual service fee of up to €50k, which guaranteed customers they would not be bothered by the authorities.

The system, developed in Warsaw in Poland, came with a ‘panic button’ so customers could delete all data in an ‘emergency’.

The files show that phones were shipped to customers in Bogota and Medellin, home of the notorious Colombian drug cartel once headed by Pablo Escobar. Business from the bunker was also provided for criminal gangs in the Philippines, North Africa, Dubai, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Scandinavia.

The five-year investigation by Rhineland police culminated in a spectacular raid last September which saw swarms of armed officers surround the bunker and seize control of it. The Penguin’s business partner, Herman Xennt, was among more than 10 people arrested — but Mitchell was long gone.

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An aerial view of the the former Cold War bunker which Mitchell invested in

An aerial view of the the former Cold War bunker which Mitchell invested in

DER SPIEGEL

An aerial view of the the former Cold War bunker which Mitchell invested in

The top target of the pricey probe was not among those nabbed, nor will he be prosecuted having disappeared off police radar and sailed into the sunset.

In a mark of the resilience of the veteran godfather, Mitchell went to ground after becoming paranoid about a ‘rat’ in the bunker and had fallen out with Xennt, the self-professed lord of the darknet, in a dispute over money

His legendary ability to remain one step ahead of the law means he won’t be prosecuted alongside his alleged accomplices, who are facing a massive trial in the coming months.

The files give a major insight into the world ofthe reclusive godfather, who remained in hiding for almost two decades before the Sunday World tracked him down to the sleepy wine region of Traben-Trarbach, where Xennt bought the former cold war bunker in 2014 and registered it as a ‘data centre’.

The dossier details how Mitchell and Xennt, who was with The Penguin when we photographed him five years ago, were in constant contact as the bunker began operating as a major secure location for servers of darknet businesses – including online drug dealing, money laundering and encrypted communication systems used by criminals.

Among the secretive businesses discovered was a money transfer facility which avoided criminal laundering enquiries.

In one payment alone, almost €200,000 was processed to a man living in the Molenbeek area of Brussels — a hub for radical Islamic terrorism and where the plot for the Parisian Bataclan attack was hatched.

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Investigators uncovered a treasure trove of servers in the bunker

Investigators uncovered a treasure trove of servers in the bunker

Investigators uncovered a treasure trove of servers in the bunker

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, police were hampered by the secret language and codewords used by The Penguin, developed over years at the highest echelons of organised crime.

In applications to the courts to allow the surveillance, details of Mitchell’s criminal empire were laid out. In 2014, he was suspected of smuggling 10kg of cocaine and Glock weapons from Holland to Northern Ireland.

He is said to have been involved in heroin trading in Holland and details of his son-in-law Derek ‘Maradona’ Dunne’s murder in Amsterdam in 2000 are given.

Files allege that he shipped cocaine from North Africa via Spain or Portugal to Holland in containers of oranges. The quantities are detailed as up to three tonnes a time.

In November 2016, he is cited as being behind a 283kg cocaine seizure in Brazil headed for Europe. It is further alleged that Spanish police in Marbella are investigating him for money laundering.

Throughout the course of the investigation into activities in the bunker, files say that Mitchell is ‘hierarchically’ above others, including Xennt, who is facing a court trial for his role in Traben-Trarbach.

According to the German paper Der Spiegel: “The Cyberbunker investigation is a cooperation among numerous government agencies, including the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and two state counterparts, numerous public prosecutors and investigative courts, along with a myriad of experts and undercover investigators. The case is likely to trial in Trier in a few months from now.”

The trial is expected to hear from over 100 witnesses including Xennt and his sons Xyonn and Yennoah.

An undercover investigator who worked at the bunker as a gardener will also give evidence.

Evidence around encrypted phones and the ‘high-security app’ is likely to be heard.

Mitchell — who was known in the bunker as ‘Mr Green’ — is believed to have invested in the project as a ‘pension plan’ so he could legitimise his money and bequeath it to his wide circle of offspring.

Xennt has told police that ‘Mr Green’ visited him only a few times but the massive case file dedicates hundreds of pages to the illusive Irishman and portrays him as the real boss of the organisation.

In 2017, German investigators admit they lost sight of Mitchell and the chief public prosecutor says there is “no probable cause” to prove he headed it up despite suspicions that he had funded the purchase of the bunker and was Xennt’s boss.

The caller asks if “the suits are OK?”

At the other end of the line George ‘The Penguin’ Mitchell, international godfather, says they are a “perfect fit” and discusses the “substances that change colour when exposed to the sun”.

In code, the pair go on to discuss the “situation in Ireland”.

In another call, police hear Mitchell talking about the “boxes of oranges in Malaga” and discussing how to get to a bank to pay for them. He tells an unidentified caller that 700 “boxes of oranges” should be in the warehouse, but a third party will still need 800 boxes.

Officers do not believe the man nicknamed ‘The Penguin’ was actually buying oranges, but instead using the term as code for cocaine, which they believe he was buying in large quantities — up to 3 tonnes a time from Colombia.

German police files link Mitchell to a number of shipments, tonnes of drugs seized in Brazil and in Spain, consignments smuggled through Portugal and into Holland, guns transported to Northern Ireland and heroin and cocaine supplied across mainland Europe, the UK and Ireland.

Amid the pages and pages of documents which will form part of a trial in Germany in the coming months, Mitchell’s secret life and crimes are unravelled, but so too is his extraordinary cunning that has won him the title of ‘the mysterious Mr Green’.

It was ‘Mr Green’ who appeared at an underground bunker hidden deep within Germany’s picturesque Mosel Valley and who was placed under surveillance as the activities there became suspicious in 2015.

The bunker had been bought in 2013 by Herman Xennt, an associate of Mitchell’s from Holland and a self-professed lord of the darknet. He registered it as a data centre and moved his family in. Mitchell followed him to Traben-Trarbach in September 2015 — shortly after the murder of Gary Hutch in Spain.

Files indicate that Xennt slept underground in a bed clad with black satin with a life-sized figure of Marvel hero War Machine next to his bed and an equally massive facehugger figure from the Alien franchise. Mitchell stayed in a luxury riverside apartment nearby and used Xennt’s son, Xyonn, as his chauffeur.

While Xennt’s arrival to the town and his shady background had raised eyebrows, it was only when Mitchell showed up that the local authorities took a closer look at what was going on at the ‘data centre’.

Mitchell would later be described as the lead figure in the darknet den, suspected of facilitating online drug deals, money transfers and other fraudulent activities.

Sunday World sources, however, insist he was instead an investor, whose retirement plan was to own a vast encrypted communication system which he would sell to his underworld associates.

Despite being the top target, Mitchell was the only one to slip the net and will not be prosecuted for his involve ment in the bunker. Instead, his encrypted phone network is believed to be one of 450 darknet facilities now seized by cops who hope to crack the code that may lead them right to the heart of his shady dealings.

The illusive Penguin, who hid away from prying eyes for more than 20 years and who fiercely protects himself from law enforcement and media intrusion, has an uncanny knack of waddling into the sunset while associates fall.

He first slipped the net of Irish police in 1994 when he left Ireland for Amsterdam. Despite being one of the first targets of the Criminal Assets Bureau he was already gone before his remaining wealth in Ireland was identified and a lengthy court process began.

In Holland, he was caught with stolen computer parts and spent a brief spell behind bars, but police have long suspected his real business is in heroin and cocaine, which he sells in Spain, Holland, the UK and Ireland. Despite the fact that he is due to celebrate his 70th birthday next year, The Penguin has not faced time for serious offences in the past decade and has become ever more careful to keep one step ahead of the law.

So careful is he when talking, that he pumped almost €500,000 into a start-up company hoping to develop a phone network complete with a specially-created and secure app so he and others could communicate, safe in the knowledge that they would never be answerable to the authorities.

German police files show that Mitchell never lets his guard down when he speaks on regular phone networks. All calls are carried out in the code he has developed over decades evading the law. He talks about “parking at Starbucks”, his “children going to nightclubs drinking champagne”, “dumping money” and meeting “Colombian people” in Malaga.

Associates are referred to by nicknames like ‘Uncle’, ‘Slimeball’, ‘Pigeon man’, ‘Paco’, ‘Mo’ and ‘Crazy Horse’.

While under surveillance in Germany for involvement in the darknet bunker, police believe he was also conducting business as normal. When 1.4 tonnes of compressed cocaine was discovered on a shipment bound from Colombia to Valencia in December 2015, cops said it belonged to Mitchell.

The wiretaps paint a picture of how George is always on the move — to meetings in Majorca and Ibiza, to see clients in Scandinavia, Holland and Spain and how his network transits the world at his bidding.

He talks at one point of ‘Paco’ who flies to London, Cork and then back to Holland in one day. Paco is ‘useful’, Mitchell remarks.

Mitchell swaps phones constantly — a German one today, a Spanish number tomorrow and a Dutch one for later in the week. He rents cars, arranges meetings, gets picked up in airports by a network of chauffeurs, talks of luring investors with big profit promises and lending money to a close circle.

For his lover Khadiba Bouchiba, his former secretary, he keeps the sweetest of his words. Calling her his “princess” he arranges for her to be picked up and looked after wherever she goes, for her dog to be minded while she is on holidays and for her money to be kept safe and well invested.

The Sunday World understands that the pair have shared a simple Malaga apartment together for more than a decade but that Mitchell also has a place in her native Tangiers. He extends his kindness to her family. When her daughter arrives in Spain he has her picked up in a red car suitable for a comfortable drive.

His wife, Rebecca Shannon, still lives in Amsterdam, along with daughter Rachel, but he has other offspring in Holland and Spain, as well as Ireland and the UK. Rachel regularly phones but they largely talk about finances and moving money around to various individuals. With a named fixer in Spain he talks about “sending Peter 6 across the bank”, to “send five and five” and claims the “fitness program and everything is fine”.

As Mitchell continues to operate on the suspicion his calls are being tapped, he urges all his contacts to get up on encrypted phones and gives them tutorials on how to get the codes activated. They go by names like ‘Mister Matrix’ and ‘Fashion Boss’.

The most complex language, police believe, is saved for cocaine and heroin shipments. One conversation officers believe related to cocaine went as follows: “Hello. I just found the oranges ... And what happened is that: he got 700 boxes of oranges and... and it’s in the right place. And he needs another 350 to do a full load. So... I know it’s not that easy.” Mitchell talks about encrypted phones saying: “All my friends use it, everyone. There will be no problems. A very large company is currently using it. And someone is trying to get them into the Tunisian government. Right now we urgently need programmers, but the outlines are top notch. Because everyone can make an app, but it’s very, very complicated.”

Mitchell seemed hopeful about his new company which will sell the phones, the app and charge a rental for the bunker service but was frustrated with his business partner Xennt.

“I tell you I’m at an intersection and it’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. But the problem is, the tunnel is so damn long, right?”

Towards the end of 2016, when German police were intent on taking down The Penguin, the recordings show he is concerned about two things —the possibility of a ‘rat’ in the bunker and his business partner's lack of financial experience.

In a conversation with his lover, Bouchiba, he talks of apartments and villas in Tangier and whether to sell or buy, but the pair discuss Xennt’s behaviour with the funds which he deposits and withdraws without consulting either. Investigation notes detail how the couple believe Xenntis using their investment to fund the maintenance of his bunker — estimated at €17,000 a month for electricity alone.

The files show how Bouchiba had asked Xennt to transfer her share to her account while Mitchell complains that he will try to claim money he brought in as his own.

“Xennt is not a businessman, but only a technician, but you can’t make money that way,” they conclude, complaining that there is “no money in the cash register”.

Over the course of the conversation they agree that Xennt steals money to pay bills for the bunker and that he didn’t have a business plan. Despite the massive wealth that police believe he has accrued over a lifetime in organised crime, Mitchell complains that he was stung for €100 for petrol.

The Penguin later rings his lover to tell her €3,000 has gone missing from his German apartment. In a final conversation, Mitchell suggests there is a “spy” in the bunker.

Within weeks of their chat, Mitchell falls off the German police radar, never showing up again at Traben-Trarbach. Despite his wily ability to speak in code and his cunning sixth-sense warning to stay away from Xennt, Mitchell did continue to sell his encrypted phone network — believed to be one of the 450 servers discovered in the bunker when it was eventually raided.

The Penguin may have slipped out of a prosecution in relation to the running of the bunker, but an ever bigger prize may await law enforcement yet as they attempt to break the codes and unravel the conversations he never wanted heard — the ones where no oranges are mentioned.

George ‘The Penguin’ Mitchell was under surveillance as he met with top members of the Hells Angels and Bandidos motorbike gangs as he flogged encrypted phone systems to some of the world’s largest criminal groups.

And in one bizarre episode, Mitchell tried to convince an associate linked to the gangs — who was known to German police for running prostitution rings — to invest money in a green energy venture in Ireland.

The crime godfather also made connections with several international contacts, including suspected drug cartels in Colombia, as his high-tech phone system went on the market in 2016.

German police files reveal how the system worked on BlackBerry mobile phones and with a special app which was developed in Poland under the promise that communications would be impenetrable and that each device was fitted with a panic button which would delete all data in an emergency.

Mitchell, who posed as the mysterious ‘Mr Green’ when he travelled around Europe and beyond, met with a Hells Angels president from one of the German chapters, who police believe introduced him to the notorious Frank Armin Hanebuth on the island of Majorca.

Hanebuth is the alleged leader of the Hells Angels in Europe but has lived on the Balearic island for the past ten years, where he was arrested by Spanish police for the gang’s involvement in racketeering, prostitution and other criminal activities.

Hanebuth is the alleged leader of the Hells Angels in Europe but has lived on the Balearic island for the past ten years, where he was arrested by Spanish police for the gang’s involvement in racketeering, prostitution and other criminal activities.

In 2013, when he was arrested, he was living in a €2.5 million mansion in Lloret de Vistalegre and had allegedly combined the forces of the German and Turkish biker gangs.

The Hells Angels are believed to have made millions in Germany by extorting cash and forcing women into prostitution.

Documents seen by the Sunday World show how police believe that a meeting between Hanebuth and Mitchell was facilitated in 2016 and that the Penguin made a number of trips to both Majorca and Ibiza to see the bikers.

Surveillance records also indicate that Mitchell may have sold the encrypted phone technology to criminals in Colombia in the Medellin region.

It was there, in 2017, that his pal Joe ‘Packie’ Moore (55) from Ballyfermot, south Dublin, was discovered naked, strangled and bound in bubble wrap after allegedly travelling there to smooth over some business with cocaine suppliers.

In files to be placed before the courts in Germany, it is revealed that Mitchell and his ‘Finance Minister’, who was based in Malaga, were talking about investing in various projects — including €700,000 in the Traben-Trarbach data centre.

Files detail how the pair discussed investments in servers in Venezuela, waste water in Canada and gold in the United Arab Emirates, Laos, Dubai And Katra.

They chatted about investments in platinum in Belgium, oil in Colombia and respiratory masks for health authorities in China and Indonesia. Road machines in Nigeria, blue chip shares in the City of London and swimming pools in Asia are also discussed in conversations collated by the German police.

In an insight into The Penguin’s enormous money laundering empire, the pair were also detailed as speaking about investments in a ‘green energy’ project in Ireland which benefited from State changes to emissions.

But it is Mitchell’s meetings with the biker gangs which are of the most interest to German authorities. Motorcycle gangs, including the Bandidos and the Hells Angels, are considered a national threat in 17 EU states, according to a Europol report.

Mitchell’s main contact to the gangs is described as a master of organised prostitution in Germany.

The pair were first collated when they did business over the transfer of a truck from France to Germany and later Mitchell was followed as he met his contact in Frankfurt. It was there in a café that Mitchell tried to tempt him with an unbeatable investment opportunity in Ireland.

Undercover investigators heard him describe the ‘€4.5 billion’ energy project that had an “unreal profit margin”. He ended the conversation by naming an individual in Ireland suspected of being a money launderer.

Later, officers realised that Mitchell’s contact was using the encrypted app as he looked for an email address for registration. Weeks later, the contact tells Mitchell that his Hells Angel associate is on the island of Ibiza and will meet. The biker also had Mitchell’s app. They met again back in Germany along with Xennt and discussed the Hells Angels taking on the BlackBerry phones and using the app. By the end of the summer Mitchell and his contact travelled again to Ibiza on a Eurowings flight from Cologne — with The Penguin picking up the tab.

Police files believe that it is at this point that Mitchell likely had his meeting with Hanebuth. He flew back to the small German airport of Weeze where he was observed getting a taxi with one of the workers from the bunker.

A month later at the Delicious restaurant in Berlin, Mitchell, accompanied by his ‘Minister for Finance’, had another meeting and agreed to meet the Hells Angel representatives in the Hyatt Hotel. The files suggest that Mitchell, accompanied by Xennt, were likely discussing encryption technology.

At the Hyatt, monitored phone calls registered instructions from Mitchell to buy cheap Android phones from China for the app. He later told his contact that the meeting went well and he would be furnishing a computer and 10 phones to the Hells Angels representative. There would be another meeting to secure much larger sales.

The Penguin later called his partner Khadija Bouchiba and told her: “It went well, the project will be larger than that in China.”

The investigation papers say that while investigators cannot make factual conclusions they believe that Mitchell sold the system to the Hells Angels and customers in Bogota and Medellin.

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