More than 2,600 arrested in UK after criminal EncroChat communication network cracked

French and Dutch detectives broke the EncroChat network in May 2020 leading to arrests across Europe

A police raid in Germany aimed at biker gangs in Berlin and Brandenburg prompted by the EncroChat files. Photo: AP

British authorities have arrested more than 2,600 people and seized about 14 tonnes of drugs using intelligence gathered after cracking a secret messaging service used by criminals to organise smuggling operations.

Police across Europe have used the information secured by French and Dutch detectives who secretly monitored the EncroChat service for weeks from May 2020 before its administrators realised the system had been infiltrated.

The information has been used by police forces across Europe to aim at criminal gangs leading to heavy prison sentences for groups who organised multimillion pound shipments and talked about attacking their rivals in gangland hits.

Officials described the cracking of EncroChat as one of the most significant developments against gangs that could hit their operations for years.

Britain’s National Crime Agency said that police and other agencies had seized 5.6 tonnes of class A drugs, 165 guns and more than £75 million in cash during operations against gangs. Courts have convicted 260 people, it said.

EncroChat had 60,000 users worldwide with the operators behind the service selling special customised Android phones for €1,000 ($1,190) each with a six-month contract costing €1,500.

Criminals spoke freely about their illegal operations on the subscription-only service, believing the system could not be infiltrated.

Those jailed included drug dealers Matthew Wraight, 37, and Mark Bannister, 47, who went by the names of “Rokafella” and “Goldgame” who discussed attacking their rivals.

‘Goldgame’ told his colleague in the monitored messages: “You've left it long enough… Its time to get physical… Physical.”

He also spoke of the threat of long prison terms if they are caught. “This is serious business mate,” he wrote. “Big money big bird [jail time]."

They admitted their roles in July and were jailed. But the sentences were extended last week - Wraight receiving more than 16 years and Bannister more than 12 – after they were considered too lenient.

Earlier this year, Albanian Ervin Patru, 42, was jailed for 15 years over a cocaine smuggling racket after it emerged that he had shared 14,000 lines of messages about selling drugs.

Messages were also found that linked him to a previous arrest of a fellow Albanian who was caught with four kilograms of cocaine following a high-speed police chase.

Patru – who used the handle ‘veteranbeer’ spoke of four “packets of ours” that were seized and expressed relief that a “fallen” associate had not talked.

Updated: December 20th 2021, 10:59 AM