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Encrochat hack Ireland left behind while European police forces hoover up drugs, guns, dirty money

Gardai’s secretive Crime and Security Division holds the intelligence from underworld communication system ... but no arrests have followed in Ireland

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The Encrocat facility used by criminals was blown wide

The Encrocat facility used by criminals was blown wide

The Encrocat facility used by criminals was blown wide

Gardai have remained tight lipped about the fact that no arrests made in Ireland have been credited to the EncroChat hack.

Some of the UK and Europe's most notorious criminals, the seizure of thousands of kilos of cocaine, tens of millions of cash, hundreds of guns and the dismantling of drug factories, smuggling routes and murder plots followed the system hack.

An Garda Siochana was one of the police forces which benefited from the shared information from the operation, due to the fact that criminals based here were using the encrypted phones and one of the main distributors of the system was identified as a senior member of the Kinahan cartel.

However, it is understood that a high-ranking decision was made to use the intelligence about drug runs, gun plots and underworld business for the 'bigger picture' and not act like all other forces involved, which moved in en masse to arrest suspects and seize proceeds of crime, drugs and guns.

A special Crime World Investigates podcast this week explores the Encrochat hack and how Ireland has been left behind while our nearest neighbours continue to hoover up drugs, guns, dirty money and underworld suspects in their droves.

Secretive

From Northern Ireland to Sweden, the messages between encrypted phones have formed major investigations which have shut down drug labs, nabbed huge cocaine shipments and even stopped murders and kidnaps.

But in Ireland, the intelligence has been handled in the secretive Crime and Security division, where it appears to have gone in and not come back out.

In the UK, police have revealed how they got intelligence on a daily basis from Europol during the 'live hack' over a two month period last year. They even developed a special computer programme to arrange the material into special packages to give to local and national drug and crime units so they could act on the information or use it for follow-up probes.

Almost a year on from the hack, the ripple effects of Encrochat are still being felt in the underworld. Just last month the PSNI staged a raid on a criminal gang in Newry, Co Down, suspected of supplying cocaine, and arrested one man and seized vehicles worth almost €1million.

Police in the UK have lifted more than 20 top-ranking criminals and many are before the courts, including Sean 'Cash' Cassidy who has 70 previous convictions and is regarded as one of the main suppliers to the region. He is charged with others on drugs and money laundering offences.

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 Sean ‘Cash’ Cassidy was arrested

Sean ‘Cash’ Cassidy was arrested

Sean ‘Cash’ Cassidy was arrested

Also arrested is gangland heavy Aymen Shebani, who is charged with being 'heavily' involved in large scale distribution of cocaine and cannabis. Shebani has tight links with criminal 'Mr Big' and is suspected as working as an enforcer for him.

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Aymen Shebani was arrested

Aymen Shebani was arrested

Aymen Shebani was arrested

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Michael O'Loughlin from Galway faces a string of charges, including conspiracy to murder. He was previously jailed in the Republic along with his brother Eddie after gangland legislation was enacted and they were convicted of participating in the activities of a criminal organisation.

Cocaine

This week, three more criminals were brought before a court in the UK charged with drug supply and conspiracy to kidnap.

On Wednesday in Redditch, a drug lab capable of producing €11 million worth of amphetamine a month was shut down. To date, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has arrested more than 1,500 suspects, seized more than 100 firearms and pocketed £56 million in dirty money. That's before account is taken of the 5,000 kilos of cocaine and other Class A drugs found as a direct result of the hack.

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The drugs lab found in Redditch, England

The drugs lab found in Redditch, England

The drugs lab found in Redditch, England

In the Netherlands, 200 criminals have been rounded up and officers discovered a torture chamber and crystal meth factories, along with mind boggling amounts of cocaine and other drugs. In Belgium, police have followed the hack with another shutdown of a second phone system, arrested police, public servants and port authorities on corruption offences and seized an eye watering 26 tonnes of cocaine valued at €1.4 billion.

In France, where Encrochat servers were first found and later infiltrated with malware, hundreds of arrests have shut down a number of criminal organisations.

Despite arrests across the border where most of the drug supply comes from the southern Irish-based drug gangs, no arrests made in Ireland have been credited to the Encrochat hack. No seizures and no operations have been linked to the hack, and last night An Garda Siochana refused to be drawn on why.

Safety

In a statement issued to the Sunday World, AGS said: "An Garda Siochana does not comment on matters impacting on policing and/or security operations. An Garda Siochana works in close partnership with International Law Enforcement Agencies in respect of a wide spectrum of policing and security operations in an effort to combat organised and serious criminality in order to enhance public safety."

It is understood that a schism has emerged within the force about the management decision to keep the details of the hack within the highly-secretive Crime and Security division and not share it with local and regional units fighting crime on the ground in the same way as other countries have.

Those who defend the actions of An Garda Siochana say they are only safeguarding any forthcoming trials from legal challenges due to the nature of the hack.

Threat

In the UK, cases have been taken around the legality of how the information was harnessed, but the biggest threat to the investigations has failed at Appeals Court level and the NCA has been told it can go ahead with its cases. In France, a challenge has also been taken about the legality of the operation, but that is to be expected as defence lawyers represent their clients.

Many within AGS believe the decision was catastrophic and that Ireland has lost the biggest opportunity in the fight against organised crime in recent history. Evidence coming in on a daily basis from other jurisdictions indicates the same.

Casefile

  • On Wednesday in Redditch, England, a drug lab capable of producing €11 million worth of amphetamine a month was shut down.
  • In the Netherlands, 200 criminals have been rounded up and officers discovered a torture chamber and crystal meth factories.
  • In Belgium, police seized 26 tonnes of cocaine valued at €1.4 billion.
  • In France, where Encrochat servers were first found and later infiltrated with malware, hundreds of arrests have shut down a number of criminal organisations.
  • Conservative estimates are that more than 1,000 major league criminals across Europe are currently under investigation or before the courts.

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