An elusive gang was communicating using a military grade communications network – called EncroChat – to run the multi million pound empire.
The online network was hacked by malware developed in Ireland university for France , who then informed counterparts in other countries, including the UK. The messages revealed a East midlands based gang imported over £165 million worth of cocaine into the country have been jailed for a total of 167 years.
The 21 strong group were a complex network each ensuring the illicit business ran smoothly. Leading members of the gang would travel out to Dubai to meet their cocaine contact who they bragged was on a “mill a week.”
During the raids police caught a gang member counting £500,000 which was neatly stacked. 36-year-old Nimrat Bahia, was sent to prison for seven years and a month for his involvement in the conspiracy that saw £165m in cash and high purity cocaine move around the country in just over a year.
An investigation by the East Midlands Special Operations Unit found the gang was being led by Paldip Mahngar, 45, out of his unassuming terraced house in Willow Close, Darley Abbey, Derby. Mahngar was using an encrypted phone with the Encrochat system to order numerous kilograms of cocaine from contacts in Dubai – Jaswant Kajla was then responsible for distributing the drugs across the country.
Kajla, 41, of Bluebird Drive, Coventry, organised the logistics of moving the drugs and arranged for the gang’s earnings to be collected. He ensured that the distributors were all rehearsed, acting as couriers to distribute their illicit drugs to buyers. The gang’s accountant, Manraj Johal, 32, dealt with the collected money, keeping spreadsheets logging the gang’s financial situation. Johal, of Turnpike Drive, Luton, then used another encrypted phone to relay his activity to his superior
Over the 408 day spree, the gang is estimated to have made a staggering £165,208,208 – at one point, they were thought to be raking in as much as £400k a day through their “offices” in Derby and Luton. Police were already investigating the gang and their crimes when the Encrochat phone system – an encoded system used by criminals – was infiltrated by European Police. From the seized messages, police were able to intercept a 7kg package of cocaine in Derby, April 2020. When gang member Basharat Iqbal had his home searched , police found £20,000 in £1,000 bundles in a locked tin and 3kg of cocaine stuffed in a wardrobe. They also found £1.4 million cash seized from a Derbyshire home. Three of those involved will be sentenced at a later date for their role in the scheme.
The detective investigating said “Investigations into drug conspiracies are really important and it is good to have a day like today when this intelligence comes through.” He said that some of the photos of huge bundles of cash provided by police were taken in Derby. He added that by using EncroChat, the criminals thought they could conduct their illegal enterprises “beneath our radar”. He said: “They thought we didn’t know what they were up to. “What they didn’t know was that from the very means by which they were plotting their crimes, we were taking notes and this has made for some compelling evidence.
Paldip Mahgar receiving 18 years and three months, Jaswant Kajla 15 years and three months, Manraj Johal 15 years and eight months and Manvir Singh received 13 years.
DCI Tim Walters, who led the investigation, said: “This was a massive undertaking by a very skilled and determined investigation team to dismantle a gang which was responsible for the industrial scale wholesale supply of cocaine across the country, along with the movement of millions of pounds in criminal cash each week.
“While the gang’s use of a ‘token’ system to monitor their cash flow and the encrypted Encrochat handsets to coordinate their business showed a level of sophistication, they merely acted as a breadcrumb trail for us to see the scale of the ‘business’, and identify each member
The hefty sentences given today are not only a testament to an impressive regional investigation, but also to the power of collaborative law enforcement on a national and international scale. “And we’ve not finished yet. Through the Proceeds of Crime Act we will now seek to identify and seize any assets amounted from the running of this illicit enterprise, to ensure those responsible are not only stripped of their freedom, but also of any profits made through their criminal activities.”
Aside from the main players, other members of the gang helped move the drugs and money around the country. This included couriers Ranjit Sandhu, Basharat Iqbal, Banaras Iqbal, and Tyrone Gibbons.
While John Castledine and Adil Saddique acted as cash counters.
The drugs were purchased by wholesale customers, with the following people buying the cocaine by the kilo, Michael Karim, Kelly Williamson, Nathaniel Collymore, Narinderpal Sahota, Mohammad Shafiq and Joseph Davidson.
Further evidence discovered by officers showed that four of the men were also involved in the supply of heroin between January and February 2020. Shimei Connell and Joseph Davidson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to supply heroin – while Marvin Johnson and Jermaine Callender were found guilty at trial.
Police even caught one gang member counting half a million in cash during a raid
The clip shows hundreds of banknotes neatly stacked after being counted by one of the group members. 36-year-old Nimrat Bahia, was sent to prison for seven years and a month for his involvement in the conspiracy that saw £165m in cash and high purity cocaine move around the country in just over a year.
“Between March and July, 2020, more than £18m in cash was moved by the group. “On one day in April, Manraj Johal (head of the money laundering operation) complained that he had £8m in money to move around, quote, ‘stashed all over the place’.
That is just a snapshot that demonstrates the extent of this conspiracy. “This was a highly-organised professional group dealing in vast amounts of high-purity drugs and astronomical sums of money.”