I covered this story yesterday on YouTube and since then several men have appeared in court.
More than two tonnes of cocaine worth around £160m has been seized and six men arrested in a dramatic operation at sea.
The men – one Briton from Stockton on Tees, County Durham, and five Nicaraguans– were arrested on Thursday evening 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth in an operation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and supported by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Border Force.
The suspects were aboard the Kahu, a luxury Jamaican-flagged yacht sailing from the Caribbean. It was escorted back to the UK mainland where a team carried out a deep rummage search and discovered the enormous haul
The men, whose ages range from 24 to 49, were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and are in custody awaiting interview.
The NCA worked with the AFP which as part of the operation used evidence from its Operation Ironside, the country’s investigation into the AnOm encrypted comms platform.
Matt Horne, NCA deputy director, said: “This is a massive haul of cocaine with an estimated street value of around £160m.
“There’s no doubt these drugs would have been sold on into communities across the UK in such ways as County Lines fueling more crime and misery. Organised crime groups are motivated by money. The deprivation of these drugs will smash a hole in the OCG’s plans and ability to operate.
Also, the arrests of the men transporting the drugs means the crime group has lost trusted offenders who would have been key to their operation. We continue to work with partners at home such as Border Force and those abroad such as the AFP to protect the public from the Class A drugs threat.”
AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said: “Intelligence from Operation Ironside had enabled the AFP to assist international enforcement partners in disrupting an alleged sophisticated criminal network.
“Operation Ironside has opened the door to unprecedented collaboration across law enforcement agencies around the globe. This result highlights the importance of the AFP’s partnership with the NCA to combat offshore transnational organised crime that impacts both of our countries.
“The AFP and NCA have a strong, historic relationship and both agencies recognise the significant threat to national security posed by transnational organised crime.”
Six men charged with smuggling two tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated £160 million have appeared in court in Plymouth.
They faced magistrates after the authorities stopped a luxury yacht in the English Channel 80 miles off the mainland coast and brought it into the city.
All six men said to be on the Kahu have denied or not indicated a plea on a joint drugs trafficking charge.
City magistrates remanded them all in custody to appear before a judge next month.
All six defendants are charged with being knowingly concerned in carrying or concealing a Class A drug in Plymouth between August 21 and September 10.
They are said to have known or had reasonable grounds to suspect that the cocaine was being smuggled into the UK.
Briton Andrew Cole, aged 32, from Norton Road, Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, indicated “no plea” to the charge.
Nicaraguans Billy Downs, aged 49, Denson White-Morales, 34, Edwin Taylor-Morgan, 40, Brynie Sjogreen, 38 and 42-year-old Ryan Taylor all pleaded not guilty.
They defendants were brought up from the cells in ones and twos.
They spoke only to confirm their personal details and enter pleas during a series of short hearings before the magistrates.
Most of the men covered their faces as they arrived and left court in the prison van.
Gareth Warden, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said that all six men were on board the yacht Kahu when it was stopped in international waters near Guernsey on Thursday.
“This was an organised trip by an overseas organised crime group.”
All six men were sent to Plymouth Crown Court on October 18 in custody. There were no applications for bail.
Magistrates heard that the case might be transferred to Newcastle Crown Court.
What is Anom?
An Australian Federal Police-led operation has charged more than one hundred organised crime members after developing a world-leading capability to see encrypted communications used exclusively by organised crime.
The encrypted communications – which allegedly included plots to kill, mass drug trafficking and gun distribution – were decrypted from a platform covertly run by the FBI.
More than 4,000 members from the AFP and state and territory police have been involved in the execution of hundreds of warrants since 7 June, 2021, under Operation Ironside, which covertly began three years ago.
Operation Ironside has led to the arrest of 224 offenders on 526 charges in every mainland Australian state.
3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 number of weapons, $44,934,457 million in cash, and assets expected to run into the millions of dollars, have been seized under Operation Ironside since 2018.
The AFP also acted on 20 threats to kill, potentially saving the lives of a significant number of innocent bystanders, with intelligence referred to state police agencies which took immediate action.
More arrests are expected domestically and offshore under a coordinated global response connected to Operation Ironside.
The AFP is also likely to seek extradition requests of a number of persons of interest living overseas. It comes as there have been tonnes of drugs and hundreds of arrests overseas.
The AFP will allege offenders linked to Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicate and Albanian organised crime are among those charged under Operation Ironside.
Operation Ironside began almost three years ago and is the Australian component of a long-term, international, covert investigation. The FBI and AFP targeted the dedicated encrypted communications platform, which was used exclusively by organised crime.
After working in close partnership on Operation Safe Cracking to take down the encrypted platform provider Phantom Secure, the AFP and FBI worked together to fill the vacuum.
The FBI had access to a new app, named AN0M, and began running it without the knowledge of the criminal underworld.
The AFP provided the highly skilled-technical staff, and capability to decrypt and read encrypted communications in real time, giving law enforcement an edge it had never had before.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw thanked the FBI for its cooperation, along with the 18 countries that worked with the AFP to maintain the integrity of the platform.
As part of the global operation more than 9000 officers from law enforcement have deployed to the international efforts. Commissioner Kershaw acknowledged the significant resources provided by Australia’s state and territory police during the days of resolution.
“Today, Australia is a much safer country because of the extraordinary outcome under Operation Ironside,” Commissioner Kershaw said.
“It highlights how devastatingly-effective the AFP is when it works with local and global partners, and takes its fight against transnational organised crime offshore.
“This world-first operation will give the AFP, state and territory police years of intelligence and evidence.
“There is also the potential for a number of cold cases to be solved because of Operation Ironside.
“However, tomorrow, and in the future, law enforcement will come up against serious challenges.
“AN0M was an influential encrypted communications app but there are even bigger encrypted platforms that are being used by transnational and serious organised criminals targeting Australia.
“They are almost certainly using those encrypted platforms to flood Australia with drugs, guns and undermine our economy by laundering billions of dollars of illicit profit.
“Organised crime syndicates target Australia, because sadly, the drug market is so lucrative. Australians are among the world’s biggest drug takers.
“One of the causes behind domestic violence, sexual assault, neglect of children and unspeakable tragedy, is illicit drugs.
“Our first responders, our teachers and every Australian should be able to go to work and live in our communities without being harmed by an individual under the influence of dangerous drugs.
The app AN0M was installed on mobile phones that were stripped of other capability. The mobile phones, which were bought on the black market, could not make calls or send emails. It could only send messages to another device that had the organised crime app. Criminals needed to know a criminal to get a device.
The devices organically circulated and grew in popularity among criminals, who were confident of the legitimacy of the app because high-profile organised crime figures vouched for its integrity.
“These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders.
“Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it – not knowing we were watching the entire time,” Commissioner Kershaw said.
FBI International Operations Division Legal Attaché for Canberra Anthony Russo said criminals around the world had long used encrypted criminal communications platforms to avoid law enforcement detection.
“The FBI, with our international partners, will continue to adapt to criminal behaviour and develop novel approaches to bring these criminals to justice,” said the FBI’s Anthony Russo.
“We appreciate our long standing partnership with the Australian Federal Police in the fight against transnational organised crime.”
This is a big story and i will keep you updated on the conclusion.