More than 1,500 arrested under Op Venetic, but no details on number of charges, devices or appeals


THE National Crime Agency (NCA) today said more than 1,550 people have been arrested as part of its investigation into users of the encrypted Encrochat phone system.

The NCA released the most up to date statistics (up to March 19 2021) for its probe dubbed Operation Venetic following what it said were "numerous media requests".

However, the agency did not release details of the numbers of people who have been charged or how many Encrochat devices were seized as part of the operation, and said it would not be commenting further.

Other statistics it released were that as part of the operation, involving the NCA, police forces, regional organised crime units, Border Force, HMRC and the CPS, there have been seizures of 5,070kgs of class A drugs, 765kgs of cannabis, 115 firearms, 2,879 rounds of ammunition, and more than £56.8 million in cash.

An NCA spokesman said: "Since Spring 2020, law enforcement has significantly disrupted and dismantled numerous crime groups across the UK.

"This is the broadest and deepest UK operation into serious and organised crime to date, and coordinated activity continues."

It is understood the number of Encrochat devices seized is significantly lower than the number of arrests.

In April Dutch and French investigators broke through the encryption of the supposedly secure Encrochat encrypted phone communication platform which was being used by around 50,000 people worldwide, including about 9,000 in the UK. They allowed police forces across Europe, including in the UK, access to previously sent and new "real time" messaging between suspected organised crime groups. It led to hundreds of raids, arrests and seizures of drugs, cash and firearms across the UK in a series of unconnected operations. Encrochat shut itself down when it discovered the hack in June. Several of the prosecutions are based on remotely-obtained message evidence alone. During Operation Venetic, the NCA arm of the Encrochat investigation, it is thought only a few hundred Encrochat devices were found in the UK. The bulk of the arrests have been for drugs, firearms and money laundering, with some for conspiracy to murder. To get access to the messages the NCA had to submit an application for a European Investigation Order (EIO) to French counterparts. A leaked copy of the EIO request that the NCA had to make for access to the Encrochat historic and ongoing live messaging suggests the agency was mainly interested in intelligence on the crimes of drug trafficking, firearms trafficking and money laundering the proceeds of crime. There were 29 other crime types listed, that it could have requested access to, including terrorism, murder, child sex offences, forgery, people smuggling, trafficking of cars and armed robbery that were left unchecked. The NCA also did not publish details of the number of challenges there have been in prosecutions over the admissibility of Encrochat evidence or if the defendant was correctly attributed to the messages. Several defence lawyers for defendants involved in Encrochat prosecutions have made applications for preparatory hearings about the evidence or to have cases dismissed.

One challenge that Encrochat real time message evidence should not be admissible in the cases, because it was a "live intercept" was rejected by the Court of Appeal. However, a number of other challenges are still underway.

Last week it emerged another encrypted platform Sky ECC has been hacked on the Continent, but the NCA has refused to confirm it is involved in the operation.

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