Police Crack Comms to Bust Money Laundering Group

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Police claim to have busted a criminal network believed to have laundered over €180m ($198m) in drug trafficking profits, after analyzing decrypted messages.

Europol said it supported a joint investigation by Belgian Federal Judicial Police Leuven and the Spanish Guardia Civil.

The organized crime group of Moroccan, Spanish and Belgian nationals apparently operated in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, South America and Dubai.

An action day in March 2023 led to five arrests in Belgium and another in Spain, and the seizure of €1.2m ($1.3m) in cryptocurrency, three properties, €50,000 ($55,000) in cash, one luxury car, several luxury watches, jewellery, 23 phones, three safe boxes and a money counting machine.

The investigation began in October 2021 when police analyzed messages sent via popular criminal communications network Sky ECC, after cracking the service’s encryption.

Read more about criminal comms networks: Drug Dealers Get 27 Years After Police Crack EncroChat Comms.

That uncovered a major cocaine trafficking operation which ferried the drug in large quantities from South America to ports and airports in Europe, using insiders at various locations to wave several tonnes of shipments through.

According to Europol, the group had managed to stay hidden by using a string of cover companies until police got hold of the decrypted Sky ECC messages.

The money laundering was achieved mainly through investments in cryptocurrency and luxury property in the EU and Morocco, as well as via an underground banking system.

Europol said it assisted the investigation with money laundering and crypto expertise.

Sky ECC was the flagship offering of Canadian communications service provider Sky Global. According to US charges filed against CEO, Jean-Francois Eap, and former distributor Thomas Herdman, the company made hundreds of millions of dollars by providing end-to-end encrypted communications impenetrable to police.

The firm was accused of turning a blind eye to the criminality of many of its users and even of setting up shell companies to hide its profits.

Europol claimed it was able to access hundreds of millions of chats sent by the 70,000 global users of Sky ECC, helping it to disrupt over 100 planned criminal operations.

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