400 Encrochat suspects 'holed up' in dirty money mecca Dubai as Operation Venetic arrests continue
HUNDREDS of suspects in organised crime investigations are trying to evade justice in Dubai - now the destination of choice for British fugitives, underworld sources claim. Around 400 British users of the encrypted mobile phone system Encrochat fled to the United Arab Emirates city after news emerged last summer it had been hacked by international law enforcement, sources claim. Defence lawyers for defendants facing prosecution under Operation Venetic, the National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into Encrochat users, said before the hack last June, people were so confident of the network's supposedly secure encryption they sent selfies of each other while discussing drug deals. However, fear spread through Britain's underworld once it emerged the system was compromised said one man who has been charged under Operation Venetic. He said: "There are about 400 lads who have been out in Dubai living the high life since last summer. "As soon as people started getting lifted over Encrochat the flights out there were filling up. Others went to Thailand. "They won't be coming back anytime soon if they can help it." Another source said among them was a British businessman close to reality TV stars who is facing a charge in connection with a police civilian staff member who has been accused of leaking details of Operation Venetic investigations to suspects. The NCA said "a charge has been authorised against another suspect" in the case "which has not been served yet," but would not confirm if he was thought to be in Dubai. The high-rise city has taken over from the Costa del Sol in Spain as the place for British criminals to launder money and evade justice. Many investigations into serious organised crime in the UK are being traced back to Dubai, where cash is being “cleaned” through luxury construction work and other businesses and there is limited regulation. The NCA said Encrochat was being used by around 50,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK. French and Dutch investigators broke the encryption in April 2020 and allowed other European police forces, including the NCA access to the communications including historic messages and those still being sent in real-time. It led to Operation Venetic which saw a series of raids across the country with huge amounts of drugs, cash and firearms seized, more than 1,500 people arrested and hundreds charged. While many people have pleaded guilty in the UK, several hundred defendants have launched ongoing legal challenges about the admissibility of the Encrochat evidence, amid claims the real-time messages were a live intercept, which is not admissible evidence in British courts. Some of the cases will not be heard until 2022, Cardiff Crown Court heard this month.
Another underworld source said: "People are laying low in Dubai hoping these legal challenges kill of the Encrochat cases. "They won't come back by choice before these appeals are exhausted. "What they do is set up a business in Dubai and then go into debt with the Government. "They think that the United Arab Emirates will be reluctant to extradite them if there is money still owed to the Government." The NCA proved it can bring wanted people back from Dubai with recent extraditions of significant British fugitives. Leon Cullen, 33, (above) was one of the UK's most wanted men before he was extradited from Dubai, where he had been in hiding for two years, in February. In May he was jailed for 22 years at Liverpool Crown Court for running a major cocaine and firearms supply network. Michael Paul Moogan, (top image) 35, another Liverpool man on the NCA's most-wanted list was arrested in Dubai in April after eight years on the run. He is awaiting extradition to face charges over alleged involvement in an international drug supply network. An NCA spokesman would not comment on the number of British fugitives it believes are currently based in Dubai. He said: "We do not routinely confirm or deny the existence of investigations, nor do we routinely confirm or deny activity linked to fugitives."