This case shows the intricate web of criminal activity that Encrochat revealed to law enforcement.
This story it started in April 2020 with UK police seizing 190 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated “street value” of £19 million at the port of Dover.
Three people were arrested following seizures from two separate trucks at the channel port, according to a press release from the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Officers found 140 kilograms (309 pounds) of cocaine in a truck carrying a shipment of paper and card from the Netherlands, and 50 kilograms (110 pounds) in a second truck carrying toy building blocks.
Gerrit Van Eckeveld, 62, from Nieuwegein in the Netherlands, was arrested by Border Force officers in relation to the larger haul.
The cocaine was found in a void in the floor of the truck, police said.
He was later charged with importing cocaine and appeared at Medway Magistrates’ Court Wednesday.
Van Eckeveld was remanded in custody and will appear at Canterbury Crown Court on May 20.
The 50 kilogram shipment was found in two holdalls in the side lockers of a truck, and two Czech nationals were arrested on suspicion of importing cocaine.
The pair were later released under investigation.
But today because of Encrochat messages a man has been jailed after specialist officers found he was using an encrypted mobile phone to import Class A drugs into the UK hidden in shipments of children’s toys.
Chris Michaelides, 52 (17.12.68) of Millwell Crescent, Chigwell, Essex, was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday, 29 October to 20 years’ imprisonment.
He previously pleaded guilty at the same court to:
Conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of controlled drugs (cocaine)
Conspiracy to supply a controlled drug (cocaine)
Possession of a firearm
Possession of ammunition
Possession of a fraudulently obtained passport
Possessing a prohibited weapon (CS gas); and
Production of a controlled drug (cannabis)
European partners and the National Crime Agency accessed and dismantled an encrypted communication system called EncroChat in 2020 as part of Operation Venetic.
On receiving data relating to those using the devices in London, the Met launched an operation named Eternal to target those using them for criminality.
Detectives from Specialist Crime analysed the data from the devices, which led to officers identifying Michaelides as being involved in the importation of cocaine.
Operation Elwenjewe was set-up and officers were tasked with attributing the EncroChat handle ‘primegator.’ After carrying out extensive enquiries, detectives carried out a warrant at Michaelides’ address on 30 June 2020 and arrested him nearby.
Officers searched his property and found a .25 Steyr handgun in a wardrobe in his bedroom, stored with seven rounds of ammunition.
They also found a UK passport with his photograph, but issued under an assumed identity.
Throughout the house, officers found quantities of cannabis and a number of cannabis plants were found growing in his garden.
A CS gas canister, which is a prohibited firearm, was found in another bedroom.
Michaelides’ EncroChat messages showed that he was in contact with others based in the UK, Holland and the Czech Republic who were involved in the importation of Class A drugs into the UK.
Conversations indicated this had been an ongoing criminal enterprise for approximately six years.
Messages received indicated that Michaelides discussed with criminal associates an arranged importation that had been intercepted at the Port of Dover on 20 April 2020.
Michaelides arranged with others for a lorry carrying an innocent cargo of children’s bricks to also be loaded with 50kg of high purity cocaine for import into the UK and onward distribution.
The messages demonstrated that he played a leading role in facilitating this importation.
Michaelides and the others involved in the conspiracy had organised for the lorry to be met at an agreed location, believed to be in Holland.
Photographs were sent on the messaging system showing cash handed to the driver for payment.
However, things did not go to plan for the criminals and the lorry was intercepted in Dover on 20 April 2020.
Throughout that day, Michaelides and the others discussed their missing lorry and even shared images of the newspaper articles that related to the seizure of 50kg of cocaine.
Undeterred by what had happened, the same criminal network set up a similar importation of cocaine, believed to be 37kg, on 1 June 2020.
However, the drugs consignment was intercepted on the continent before it could reach the UK.
Michaelides was arrested shortly afterwards and charged on 1 July 2020.
Detective Inspector Lee Byne, from Specialist Crime, said: “Thanks to great partnership working, the evidence we were able to gather against Michaelides was so overwhelming that he had no choice but to plead guilty to the charges laid against him.
“Michaelides played an instrumental part in this criminal network, which had been importing huge quantities of Class A drugs – hidden in innocent shipments, including children’s toys – for many years.
The drugs he helped to import to the UK over those years no doubt devastated many lives and communities.
“The firearms and weapons we found at Michaelides house once again demonstrates the undeniable link between drugs and violence.
This is why disrupting all routes of drug supply continues to be central to our work to tackle violence on London’s streets.”
Encrochat : Major Fox
In another case recently seen in court is that of a Wirral man who has been sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison for drug supply and money laundering offences at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday, Friday 29 October.
57-year-old Simon Roberts of Circular Road, Greasby was subject to an investigation as part Operation Venetic: a national investigation into the use of encrypted mobile devices, commonly referred to as Encrochat.
The investigation into Roberts was carried out by the Organised Crime Partnership (OCP), a specialist team set up by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Merseyside Police to tackle high risk organised crime groups linked to drugs and firearms.
He was sentenced after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin; and money laundering.
Using the handles ‘majorfox’ and ‘fanaticfern’, Roberts was evidenced to have supplied 11 kilos of cocaine to the wholesale value of £385,000; 3 kilos of heroin to the wholesale value of £52,000; and laundered more than £500,000 cash, to areas including Newcastle and Bournemouth.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Lamb from the OCP said: “It is pleasing to see a significant drug supplier and money launderer removed from the community.
Roberts was involved in drug supply on a serious and commercial scale, spreading the misery of drugs to multiple locations.
“The OCP is a joint team which looks to disrupt and dismantle those who blight communities and fuel the violent crime and fear it inevitably brings, and the close partnership work we are able to carry out assists greatly in such successful prosections.
“Operation Venetic has provided the OCP and indeed law enforcement across the UK and oversees with a wealth of evidence to arrest and ultimately convict drug dealers who believed they could evade justice by using an encrypted network.
“They were wrong, of which today’s sentencing is further proof. We will work with other agencies to stay one step ahead of these criminals, tirelessly pursuing anyone who seeks to break the law and exploit vulnerable people in our communities to line their own pockets.
“I hope that this and many other Venetic sentences show that organised crime is no way to earn money – not only will you face losing your liberty, but Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings will follow which seek to strip criminals of their ill-gotten gains so they can be reinvested into communities.
“I would ask anyone who has any information about who is supplying or selling drugs in their area to contact us so we can continue to take action.”
Operation Venetic : Stark island
A 43-year-old man has been jailed after supplying and trading multi-kilos of class A drugs across Merseyside.
Gary Mitchell of Mosslands Drive, Wallasey was jailed for 15 years at Liverpool Crown Court today (Friday 29 October) after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis
Mitchell is the latest man in Merseyside to be jailed as part of Operation Venetic: a national investigation into the use of encrypted mobile devices, commonly referred to as Encrochat.
Officers found that Mitchell, using the encrochat handle “StarkIsland,” conspired with others to supply 27kgs of heroin, 17 kilos of Cocaine, 159 kilos of Cannabis and 7000 ecstacy tablets across Merseyside.
In his messages to suppliers he gave details of key journeys that he carried out in his vehicle, and sent a picture of cannabis that he was holding which enabled police to confirm that the fingerprints in the picture were Mitchells.
Mitchell was arrested at his home in Wallasey and later charged with Class A and Class B drug conspiracies.
So far, the ongoing work of Operation Venetic to unmask drug dealers using encrochat devices has seen 126 people charged with 42 people being sentenced to a total of 492 years prison across Merseyside.
Investigations continue to recoup ill-gotten gains under the proceeds of Crime Act, and so far we have recovered £1.8 million in cash, 110kg of cocaine and heroin, and four firearms with ammunition.
Detective Sergeant Jay Boardman said: “Mitchell supplied a devastatingly large amount of drugs across Merseyside that could have destroyed many lives across our communities.
His unabashed photos of drugs and cash that were finally used to bring Mitchell to justice shows that he thought he was above the law and I hope this sentencing proves that crime does not pay, and we will use every tool to make sure anyone who tries to profit from the sale of illegal drugs are handed lengthy jail terms for their crimes.”
“Operation Venetic came about after law enforcement officials in Europe managed to crack the ‘encrochat’ service being used by criminals involved in serious and organised crime to carry out their business.
“Despite the increasing number of people sentenced for these crimes across Merseyside our work still continues along with law enforcement agencies across the world, to pursue anyone who tries to live a lifestyle that destroys lives and families.