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Cell and hack Trucker Thomas Maher faces losing fortune after 'bulletproof' encryption system is blown wide open

As Maher languishes behind bars, having pleaded guilty to conspiring to import Class A drugs into Ireland, his wife has been left to pick up the pieces of their once luxurious lifestyle which they funded through organised crime

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Thomas Maher

Thomas Maher

Thomas Maher

It was the phone hack that rocked the underworld and led to thousands of arrests and record breaking seizures of drugs, guns and dirty money.

Yet, Ireland has little to show from the massive Encrochat investigation despite being one of the country's to receive the shared intelligence from Europol.

One year after French police cracked the code and began to listen in to gangland's phone network of choice, the ripple effects are still being felt by organised crime.

Today, we look at how the hack happened despite promises that the phone network was the gold standard for criminals, and what the fallout means in Europe and closer to home in Northern Ireland and the UK.

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Joanna and Thomas Maher’s home in Warrington

Joanna and Thomas Maher’s home in Warrington

Joanna and Thomas Maher’s home in Warrington

Trucker Thomas Maher was the first criminal to lose his freedom after the massive Encrochat hack.

Now he and his wife Joanna face losing their vast fortune which spanned Ireland, the UK and Spain.

As Maher languishes behind bars, having pleaded guilty to conspiring to import Class A drugs into Ireland, his wife has been left to pick up the pieces of their once luxurious lifestyle which they funded through organised crime.

Now the couple are facing a second wave of misery because of a phone they were told was bullet-proof and could never be wire tapped by cops.

As he settles into prison to serve a 14-year jail term, the probe into Maher's activities isn't over yet.

Instead, it has moved to the money trail and to how he paid for the expensive cars that lined the driveway of his north of England home and how he could afford to pay for five-star holidays and expensive jewellery, including a collection of his-and-hers designer watches.

Police in the UK are now hoping to complete their move against the couple's assets and are targeting their home, cars and other goods which they are hoping to seize under the Proceeds of Crime Act - which mirrors Irish legislation governing how the Criminal Assets Bureau goes about its business.

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Maher sold a vehicle to Ronan Hughes, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and people smuggling

Maher sold a vehicle to Ronan Hughes, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and people smuggling

Maher sold a vehicle to Ronan Hughes, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and people smuggling

Often, assets profilers are alerted because of criminal investigations which identify under-the-radar gang members who have amassed huge wealth.

In the case of Maher and wife Joanna, a plush home purchased in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of jewellery have been identified.

The couple are also believed to have a second home in Spain and other luxury cars there too. Orders are sought and granted through the courts until a settlement is made or the case is contested.

For two decades, Thomas and Joanna enjoyed an enviable lifestyle as a 'haulage company' boss and a 'hair-salon manager'. In reality, they were milking it from criminal gangs who needed to transport their goods in the same way ordinary businesses do.

Maher was one of the first criminals convicted after the massive Encrochat phone hack, which is the focus of a special Crime World Investigates podcast this week.

He pleaded guilty to charges of drug smuggling last December, despite the fact that challenges were already being taken against the legality of the Encrochat hack involving complexities around when the messages were harvested.

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Designer watches were found at Maher’s home during searches

Designer watches were found at Maher’s home during searches

Designer watches were found at Maher’s home during searches

In February, the National Crime Agency (NCA) was told that its actions were lawful and it can proceed with hundreds of cases.

Sources say that Maher is in such poor health and so desperate to get his jail term finished that he decided to plead guilty to get his sentence underway.

He knew that he had been caught red-handed and feared any reprisals from the many feared drug mobs he had worked for should he attempt to have his case and other evidence heard.

While he was handed down 14 years, it is often the case in the UK that criminals are let out on licence after serving half their term, meaning he could be freed by 2027.

Any early release would mean he would be freed under a Serious Crime Prevention Order, tightly restricting his communications, finances and ownership of companies.

Maher proudly told neighbours that he had worked hard for everything he had, but underneath the veneer of a family man was a gangland fixer who provided a vital service for drugs mobs - one which literally keeps the show on the road.

Sources say Maher had an insatiable appetite for money and took work from warring criminals, including both sides of the Hutch and Kinahan feud, and was known as a tight-fisted facilitator who linked drivers with drug mobs but who always made sure he got his cut.

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Wads of cash were found at Maher’s home during searches

Wads of cash were found at Maher’s home during searches

Wads of cash were found at Maher’s home during searches

Maher regularly commanded as much as €3,000 for making a phone call and putting a long-distance trucker in touch with lower-ranking members of gangs who were charged with handling cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and even guns for transport. He bought and sold trucks and always made sure he got a good price for second-hand vehicles.

"He definitely had a reputation for being extremely mean when it came to money," a source told the Sunday World. "He was stinking rich but he always made sure he collected every penny he was owed. He blew the money he earned, but only on himself and his family.

"There was nothing generous about him at all - it will hurt him more that he is going to lose his assets rather than the jail term he has to serve," the source added.

Maher's undoing was the result of his trust in the Encrochat phone system which he had been sold as the 'gold standard' in communication networks for gangsters. But the Offaly-born trucker is not alone and hundreds more like him are expected to be convicted in the courts as a result of the system takedown.

Already, the NCA in the UK has arrested more than 1,500 suspects for gun and drug crime, conspiracy to murder and many other gangland offences. It has also seized 5,000kg of Class A drugs, 115 firearms and £56 million of criminals' cash as a direct result of the information received from Europol.

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Designer watches, wads of cash and luxury cars were found at Maher’s home during searches

Designer watches, wads of cash and luxury cars were found at Maher’s home during searches

Designer watches, wads of cash and luxury cars were found at Maher’s home during searches

Encrochat used end-to-end encryption on phones it sold its customers and Maher regularly communicated with associates in Ireland and the UK.

His handle was 'Satirical' and he chatted freely with pals, although using codenames for places, like 'flat' for the Netherlands.

"I'm at this game the last 20 odd years pal. I'm not an overnighter so I know the way of plays," said messages intercepted by police and which firmly linked him with the incriminating texts, including photos of his feet which he had sent on to show how unwell he was and how difficult he found it to walk.

Maher had come on the police radar after he sold a truck to Monaghan man Ronan Hughes, which was later being driven by Maurice 'Mo' Robinson when 39 migrants were discovered dead in the back. But Maher continued to trust the phone and never thought his messages could ever be read by police. He wasn't alone - UK police found that 9,000 handsets had been sold to criminals in Britain.

The Sunday World has previously revealed how Maher used the phone to try to have Ronan Hughes attacked in prison, but the Irishman was moved for his own safety.


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