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ENCROCHAT HACK: Four men arrested over machine guns and cocaine after encrypted phones probe

THREE men have been charged and a UK national arrested in Spain on a European Arrest Warrant as part of a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into the large scale supply and possession of firearms.

The four men were arrested yesterday, Tuesday October 20, at two addresses in Manchester, one in Chester and in Estepona, Spain.

The NCA launched its investigation earlier this year as part of Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response to the takedown of encrypted global communications service EncroChat.

In April, under Operation Venetic, officers seized an AK47 assault rifle hidden in a commercial building in Warrington, Cheshire.

That month officers also seized an Uzi and Skorpion sub machine guns, 300 rounds of ammo, £180,000 cash and a kilogram of cocaine from a location in London.

In June, officers seized a second AK47 from an address in Manchester.

Last night, the three men arrested in the north west of England were charged with conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life or to enable another person to endanger life.

They are: Bilal Khan, 32, of Mersey Road, Didsbury, Manchester; Umair Zaheer, 33, of Somerset Road, Eccles, Manchester; and

Hitesh Patel, 26, of Garden Lane, Chester, Cheshire.

Also yesterday in an internationally co-ordinated strike, Robert Brazendale, 33, was arrested by the Spanish National Police in Estepona on the Costa del Sol, on a European Arrest Warrant, on suspicion of the same offence.

Brazendale, of Warrington, Cheshire, has been remanded to custody in Spain and faces extradition proceedings.

Khan, Zaheer and Patel will appear at Manchester Magistrates’ Court today.

Neil Gardner, NCA operations manager, said: “The arrests by the NCA and Spanish National Police are the latest in a long line made since Operation Venetic was announced in July this year.

“As part of this investigation the NCA and our policing partners have removed some of the most deadly firearms that exist.

“We will continue to target offenders who bring firearms into our communities.”

This spring Dutch and French investigators broke through the encryption of the supposedly secure Encrochat encrypted phone communication platform which was being used by around 60,000 criminals worldwide, including 10,000 in the UK.

They allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to real time messaging between organised crime groups.

It led to hundreds of raids, arrests and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms, with more than 1,000 people arrested.


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