North Wales Police key role in Operation Venetic – The UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation
Officers and staff from North Wales Police have played a vital role in a massive UK wide operation which has seen entire organised crime groups dismantled.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) led Operation Venetic has seen 746 arrests, and £54m criminal cash, 77 firearms and over two tonnes of drugs seized so far.
Law enforcement officers infiltrated an encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals.
EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted communications and offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service, but an international law enforcement team cracked the company’s encryption.
There were 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK – the sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.
Since 2016, the National Crime Agency has been working with international law enforcement agencies to target EncroChat and other encrypted criminal communication platforms by sharing technical expertise and intelligence.
Two months ago this collaboration resulted in partners in France and the Netherlands infiltrating the platform. The data harvested was shared via Europol.
Unbeknown to users the NCA and the police have been monitoring their every move since then under Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response.
Simultaneously, European law enforcement agencies have also been targeting organised crime groups.
The EncroChat servers have now been shut down.
Operation Venetic is the biggest and most significant operation of its kind in the UK.
Organised crime groups in the UK have been using EncroChat, communicating freely believing the technology made them secure. The criminal group behind EncroChat operated from outside the UK.
On 13 June EncroChat realised the platform had been penetrated and sent a message to its users urging them to throw away their handsets.
The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make VOIP calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely – have no other conventional smart phone functionality and cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.
And recent messages from some of the UK handsets included:
- “This year the police are winning.”
- “NCA as u know well are sophisticated and relentless.”
- “If NCA then we have a big problem.”
- “The police are having a field day.”
The NCA created the technology and specialist data exploitation capabilities required to process the EncroChat data, and help identify and locate offenders by analysing millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images.
The North West Regional Organised Crime Unit was involved in the operation resulting in 93 arrests and the seizure of £3.6 million criminal cash, 79kg of drugs, 10 firearms and 220 rounds of ammunition across the North West.
North Wales Police’s Head of Crime Services, Detective Chief Superintendent Wayne Jones, said: “Officers and staff from North Wales Police played a key role in supporting Operation Venetic, working with colleagues in the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and the National Crime Agency.
“For a number of weeks we have been receiving intelligence that has enabled us to carry out targeted operations into Organised Crime Groups operating in North Wales.
“We have already seized high purity Class A drugs and made a number of arrests.
“The taking down of the encrypted network only marks the beginning of further enforcement action we will be taking to arrest those who commit serious crime in North Wales.
“We have secured further evidence into criminal activity, and this will be used in further operations with more arrests and seizure of criminal assets to follow.”
NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland, said: “The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country.
“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.
“The NCA is proud to have led the UK part of this operation, working in partnership with policing and other agencies. The results have been outstanding but this is just the start.
“A dedicated team of over 500 NCA officers has been working on Operation Venetic night and day, and thousands more across policing. And it’s all been made possible because of superb work with our international partners.
“Together we’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them.
“The NCA plays a key role in international efforts to combat encrypted comms. I’d say to any criminal who uses an encrypted phone, you should be very, very worried.”
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