ENCROCHAT: Haulage firm boss nabbed by encrypted phone hack admits drug importation


AN IRISH haulage firm owner who used the encrypted messaging platform EncroChat to lead a criminal network which moved drugs and dirty cash across Europe has been convicted. Thomas Maher, 39, (above) of Wiltshire Close, Warrington, appeared at Liverpool Crown Court this morning [September 25] where he pleaded guilty to two charges relating to importing Class A drugs into the UK and two charges of money laundering. The National Crime Agency (NCA) moved in to arrest Maher following evidence acquired through EncroChat – the encrypted messaging platform that was brought down in June as part of Operation Venetic.

French and Dutch law enforcement cyber experts managed to crack the encryption of the messaging service used by 60,000 criminals worldwide and around 10,000, including Maher, in the UK.

The NCA and British police forces were given access to real-time messages of organised criminals leading to hundreds of raids with so far more than 1,000 people being arrested. NCA Deputy Director Craig Naylor said: “Maher was the logistics man for a number of crime groups, and played a key role in an important criminal infrastructure. He was able to use his contacts and his business to facilitate large amounts of class A drugs to enter the UK and Ireland, with little thought to the damage they inflict on people and communities.

GUILTY: Maher has admitted drug importation and money laundering (NCA)

“Going the other way he was able to ship large amounts of cash, after taking a cut himself, which no doubt was used to fund further criminal activity. “Put simply, organised crime groups can’t function without people like Maher. “Operation Venetic has halted thousands of criminal conspiracies and led to the arrests of hundreds of suspects. Thomas Maher was undoubtedly one of the most significant.” Officers from the NCA monitored Maher’s movements over a seven month period during which he met with associates at hotels and in public spaces in the North West to organise the trafficking of cocaine from Holland to the UK and Ireland. Encrochat messages obtained by the NCA through Operation Venetic showed that in April 2020 he orchestrated the collection and delivery of at least 21 kilos of cocaine from locations in the Netherlands. Associates reported back to Maher as the drugs were picked up, transported and arrived at their final destination in Ireland.  On April 2 an exchange took place at a garage in Lierop, Netherlands, where 11 kilos of cocaine was passed between two vehicles. Two days later, the arrival of the drugs by way of Dunkirk to Dover and eventually Donabate, near Dublin was confirmed. Messages showed that Maher had discussed splitting the profit with one of his group. In another job, Maher made arrangements for 10 kilos of cocaine to be collected from an area near De Strubben in the Netherlands and again delivered to the outskirts of Dublin, which netted further profits. As well as drugs Maher also helped to facilitate the movement of large sums of cash. One charge relates to arranging for 305,000 euros to be transported from Ireland to Holland on behalf of one of his associates, whom he charged a commission for his involvement. In May, An Garda Síochána in Drogheda, Ireland seized a further 600,000 euros in transit, arresting three people. Maher arranged for the movement of this cash. Officers from the NCA arrested Maher on 13 June 2020 at his home in Warrington. He was charged two days later and remanded in custody until today’s plea hearing at Liverpool Crown Court. He will be sentenced later this year.

DEATHTRAP: 39 bodies were found in this lorry container last October (Reuters)

Last October Maher and wife Joanna, 39, were arrested at their home on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals whose bodies were discovered in a refrigerated lorry container at Thurrock in Essex after they were trafficked into the country.

Two Range Rovers, a Chevrolet spots car and a motorbike seized and a hair salon owed by Mrs Maher was also searched.

The couple were later released under investigation over the alleged offences and not charged.

They told media at the time that the Scania lorry cab, which pulled the container, and had been registered to them was sold by them to a company in Ireland.

Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll who heads Organised and Serious Crime within the Garda Síochána said: “The Garda Síochána and the UK's National Crime Agency have developed a very productive working relationship, resulting in communities in the United Kingdom and Ireland being better protected. “The combined investigative power of such collaboration undertaken at an international level, prevents those involved in organised and serious crime from exploiting international borders in an attempt to avoid prosecution.”

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