Sky ECC hack led to probe that dismantled European cocaine super network linked to Kinahan Cartel
A BRITISH man accused of being a key player in a drugs "super cartel" believed to be flooding Europe with drugs sparked the probe that Europol said dismantled the network after sending messages to ask about a missing consignment of drugs, it has emerged.
The man, identified by Spanish media as Ryan James Hale, 32, was using the supposedly secure encrypted Sky ECC phone messaging system when nearly 700 kilos of cocaine was seized in a container at the Port of Valencia in March 2020, according to the Spanish Guardia Civil.
It was a "blind shipment", meaning the container company or owners of the legal items being moved had no knowledge of the drugs and no one was arrested. However, at the time police from France, Belgium and the Netherlands were monitoring messages sent by suspected crime gangs through the Sky ECC system, which had been infiltrated by law enforcement cyber experts from those countries. A Sky ECC user with the handle Robo was identified among around 900 million messages being analysed and he had taken a particular interest in the cocaine lost at Valencia. The Guarda Civil told El Pais that Robo was making enquiries as to whether the loss was the result of a police operation or a theft by another crime group.
On Monday the Guarda Civil said it had identified Robo as being the British key player and that analysis of the messages showed the super cartel had imported about ten tonnes of cocaine, worth about £650m, into Spain over two years. But, the group had also flooded ports in Amsterdam and Antwerp with the drug over the same period, police said. It said this was identified from messages between Robo and another handle "Hassan" who investigators said had been identified as Panamanian Anthony Alfredo Martínez Meza, one of the six arrested, alleged to have sourced the drugs in Panama. A Guardia Civil statement said: "It has been possible to identify the leader of this organization, a British citizen linked to the Costa del Sol and who had to leave Spain due to an attempted kidnapping against him, moving to Dubai, a place from where he continued directing and coordinating the criminal activities of the organization.
"In the same way, the Civil Guard managed to identify the source supplier of the drug, turning out to be a Panamanian citizen also living in Dubai, who would be responsible for the introduction of the drug in the Port of Manzanillo in Panama, and who also maintained contacts with the rest of the barons in Dubai." Hale was named in El Pais as one of six "high-value targets" alleged to be part of the super cartel, who were arrested in Dubai last month. Spanish investigators suspect his involvement in sourcing cocaine for import into Spain from Marbella and later Dubai. They have also alleged he is an associate of the Kinahan Cartel, said to be part of the super cartel, which originated in Ireland, but also has bases in the UK, Spain and Dubai. The super cartel is said to be made up of the Kinahan group and a number of separate international networks from the UK, Morocco, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, whose leadership is alleged to be mostly based in Dubai. They allegedly joined forces to source the best rates directly from cocaine manufacturing cartels in South America. A second British man was arrested on the Costa del Sol, in connection with alleged money laundering. A UK National Crime Agency (NCA) spokesman said: "NCA international liaison officers worked with the Spanish Guardia Civil in relation to a British man alleged to be a key part of the network. "Living on the Costa del Sol, he is suspected of being the group’s money launderer, setting up a construction business to conceal the criminal origin of the profits. "Another British man, believed to be the group’s leader, was arrested in Dubai having fled there from the Costa del Sol following a kidnap attempt. He is understood to have directed and coordinated the group’s criminal activities from the UAE." Steve Reynolds, NCA regional manager in Spain, said: “We helped our Spanish counterparts to target a British man who was one of the crime group’s key players." In April, at a press conference in Dublin, US officials announced they had sanctioned seven lead members of the Kinahan Cartel, including its alleged founder Christy "The Dapper Don" Kinahan, 65, a convicted drug trafficker, and his two sons Daniel, 45, and Christopher jnr Kinahan, 41, and set aside a $5m (£3.8m) reward for information leading to their arrest and prosecution. Police forces from the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Dubai, the UK have also been involved in separate, but coordinated investigations into the network, with about 30 tonnes of cocaine seized from it at various European ports in the past two years. Spanish Police last week revealed a breakthrough that led to its Operation Faukas, part of the wider international Operation Desert Light, which has led to the arrest of 49 suspects, across France, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and the six held in Dubai last month. The other four top levels targets held in Dubai included Dutch-Bosnian alleged Tito and Dino Cartel leader Edin Gacanin, 40, who was photographed at the 2017 wedding of Daniel Kinahan in Dubai. The others were named by El Pais as three Dutch Moroccans.