Cavan businessman Roger O’Grady charged with conspiracy to import cocaine

Cavan businessman Roger O’Grady charged with conspiracy to import cocaine

30 in the North of Ireland face court for drug dealing

North of Ireland charges part of Europe-wide investigation of encrypted phone network 

UP TO 30 people in the North of Ireland face prosecution in connection with a Europe-wide investigation into organised drug dealing.

NCA National Crime Agency

The developing scale of the offensive against suspected crime networks using encrypted communications emerged as a 55-year-old Belfast man faced allegations of involvement in high-value cocaine and cannabis trading. Eamon Cullen was arrested after searches at his Upper Lisburn Road home on Monday. He appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court charged with being concerned in the supply of class-A and B drugs. Mr Cullen is further accused of possessing, transferring and entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property between March and June. The case relates to raids carried out as part of the National Crime agency-led Operation Venetic.

Robin Steer, prosecuting, said inquiries began when French authorities accessed data and messages from encrypted phone handsets costing up to £1,500 each. “At the minute there are about 20-30 people going through the courts [in the North of Ireland],” he said. Mr Steer said messages show Mr Cullen arranged a meeting with someone at a garage near his home. The communications allegedly link the defendant to large amounts of cash and drugs, with references to a “bill of £330,000” for one consignment and other slang terms for cocaine and cannabis.

Philip Breen, defending, said his client would not flee if released. He said Mr Cullen was out at work when police searched his house but honoured an arrangement to call at a PSNI/RUC station on Tuesday. “There’s no reason to think he’s not going to turn up for trial,” Mr Breen said. Bail was granted on condition that Mr Cullen provides a £5,000 surety, surrenders any passports and abides by a curfew. District Judge Fiona Bagnall banned him from using a mobile or accessing the internet. Mr Cullen is due to appear back in court in four weeks.

With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story 

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Gang suspect held in Encrochat sting


AN alleged Dublin gangster has been charged with being “heavily involved” in the large-scale distribution of cocaine and cannabis in a charge linked to encrypted phones.

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With Aymen Shebani appearing at Banbridge Magistrates Court via Videolink from police custody, a prosecution lawyer told the court that as a result of previously encrypted phone being lawfully accessed, the police believe the 38-year-old has been involved in conspiracies to import and supply drugs and to possess a gun. Shebani, originally from Dublin but whose address was listed as Carney Hall in Newry, appeared in court on Thursday 23rd July facing five drugs charges accusing him of conspiring to import cannabis, conspiring to possessing the class B drug and cocaine with intent to supply, and being concerned in supplying cocaine and cannabis. Shebani was also charged with conspiring with other to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life and with entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property, all alleged to have been committed between March 25th and June 15th this year. The following photographs have nothing personally to do with this case but are to do with other cases where drugs and cash were recovered during Operation Venetic.

28 million street valium pills have been snatched by police (Image: National Crime Agency)

During a contested bail application prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer told the court, which was sitting in Lisburn, that “essentially, this began when the police were able to access encrypted phone data, incoming and outgoing text messages as well as images being sent”. That investigation has been labelled as Operation Venetic as police forces across Europe strive to tackle organised crime and to date, eight men have appeared in courts across the North of Ireland on a raft of charges arising from investigators accessing previously encrypted phones. Outlining how encrypted phones do not use the same communication networks as normal phones with data allowances costing the user around £1,500 every six months, Mr Steer said that, similarly to other cases which have recently been before the courts, “police don’t have the handset but they believe that the messages can be attributed to this defendant circumstantially by reason of their content”. He told District Judge Amanda Henderson the police had been able to access a “very large number of messages referring to cocaine and cannabis, importing drugs from Spain, the movement of very large amounts of cash and quantities of drugs.


“Also messages which referred to a firearm using the slang words of ‘using a drill’,” said Mr Steer, claiming that Shebani’s encrypted username was “waterquail.” Turning to how police believe they can connect Shebani to the hacked data, the lawyer detailed how:◾The user ‘waterquail’ had sent another user a message on May 26th “that he’d had a baby boy on Friday” ◾Sent a photo of the baby, confirmed his name and said that he “is a ringer” for one of Shebani’s other children ◾Referred to Chelsea Bollard in a message ◾An image uncovered on the encrypted phone had a partial image of Shebani lying with the newborn baby ◾Refers to a Niall in a message. The court heard how all of that ties in with Shebani and when cops raided his house on June 15th, Shebani’s partner Chelsea Bollard was there with the couple’s newborn son who has the same name as the baby referred to in the intercepted messages.

Money stash seized after a four year international operation (Image: National Crime Agency)

Police investigations are ongoing in that officers are seeking to obtain a copy of the baby’s birthday certificate, said Mr Steer, adding that in relation to bail objections, police had concerns that he would reoffend or would abscond. He revealed that Shebani was jailed for six months in 2010 for concealing criminal property in that he had failed to declare €62,000 and €3,000 that had been found in his then-home near Derry. The money was found in an apartment at Dunhugh Manor in Newbuildings during a search in November 2009, with Shebani claiming he had earned the money from buying and selling cars. Mr Steer said Shebani had been on bail for those charges but had absconded for over two months, highlighting that “he is from Dublin” with connections to the South so there was a risk of flight. He said while there is “nothing terribly significant” on Shebani’s criminal record in the South, the lawyer claimed that “he is known to have criminal connections to organised crime groups in Dublin.

A total of 77 guns, including sub machine guns, have been recovered
A total of 77 guns – including sub machine guns – have been recovered (Image: National Crime Agency)

Giving evidence to the court, Detective Constable Kincaid agreed with defence counsel Aaron Thompson that “this isn’t a typical drug or criminal property case” where investigators have physically seized materials which they can connect to a defendant but rather “it’s derived from intelligence” and data from previously encrypted phones. The officer agreed that numerous phones and laptops were seized from Shebani’s property but told the lawyer that as they’re still being examined, he “cannot determine” whether any of them are the encrypted device Shebani is alleged to have used. As regards the supposed risk of flight, the officer conceded that he was not aware that Shebani had been on bail and had adhered to conditions for several months in relation to an offence which was later dropped.

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What the court did not hear on Thursday was how that dropped charge was of attempting to murder Simon O’Connor who was stabbed in Newry on St Patrick’s Day 2012. Shebani had also been charged with two counts of threatening to kill O’Connor in relation to the alleged street attack that left O’Connor with life-threatening injuries but they were dropped by the PPS as well. The judge said while “it’s an unusual case… what concerns me here is that Mr Steer outlined very personal details taken from the data that point very strongly to the defendant. “The police have outlined to me what they have described as heavy involvement in very serious crime, very serious drugs crime and eBay causes me very real concern,” said the judge, adding that she was satisfied “there’s strong evidence to connect him to the contents if the phone and the movement of cash and drugs”. The judge said she was refusing the application for bail because if the risk of Shebani committing further offences. He was remanded into custody and his case was adjourned to August 20th.

With many thanks to the: Sunday World for the original story 

Application for Anonymity granted in major Operation Venetic encrypted communications drug importation case | Madden & Finucane Solicitors

What the EncroChat Busts Tell Us About Organised Crime in Europe – VICE

NCA (National Crime Agency)



Gangs use £3.5k handsets in crime network

An PSNI/RUC investigation into organised crime has exposed a Europe-wide criminal network.

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Cops here were the first to put people before the courts based on a breach of a secure mobile phone network called EncroChat. The arrests were part of a Europe-wide operation aimed at organised crime gangs – the largest of its kind ever carried out. Police services across the UK have seized weapons and huge amounts of drugs and cash in what is being seen as one of the most significant and successful operations aimed at taking down criminal crime lords. At the centre of it is EncroChat, an encrypted mobile phone network shared by criminal bosses across the continent. The system is WiFi-based and does not rely on a mobile network, users can only communicate by text or pictures, and cannot make a voice call. According to security sources the system is set up entirety for the benefit of criminal gangs – some of whom operate in the North of Ireland.

Handsets can cost up to £3,500 a piece and joining the network is by invitation only. Cracking the code has exposed a vast network of criminal enterprises and a higher level of co-operation between organised crime gangs than previously believed. Operation Venetic in the UK has been overseen by the National Crime Agency who have been working in partnership with police forces across Europe including the Gardaí. To date six people in the North of Ireland are facing charges as a result of cops breaching EncroChat. This week a dissident republican appeared in court as a result of Venetic. Prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer told Craigavon Magistrates Court last week that having accessed messages and images in an encrypted phone, police believe that Bryan McManus is involved in the “transport and shipment of large quantities of drugs and cash,” adding that “we say he is connected to a criminal network”.

McManus appeared at court via videolink from police custody and confirmed that he understood the 12 charges against him. The 642-year-old, from Aileen Terrace in Newry, was charged with nine drugs offences including the importation of cocaine and cannabis. The Co Armagh engineer, who has previous convictions for possessing handguns and ammunition and supplying funds or property for a terrorist organisation, was also charged with possessing criminal property and conspiring to convert and conceal criminal property. Intercepted messages referred to amounts of money up to £300,000 while others referred to “cocaine testing kits and a metal press used to make blocks of cocaine”.


Turning to McManus’s previous record, the court heard that he was jailed for six and a half years in 2013 for firearms and terrorist offences and is the subject of a “terrorism notification order for 15 years”. Six mobile phones which had been seized “are still to be assessed. He conceded that another man arrested as part of the same operation has been freed on bail but Mr Steer highlighted how that defendant, Victor Notorantonio, has numerous health difficulties. McManus was remanded into custody until July 31st 2020. Security sources have told us there is ‘minimal’ involvement of paramilitary gangs, which highlights the increasing level of international organised crime in the North of Ireland.

“While the paramilitaries remain a significant criminal enterprise, and they are getting more sophisticated, it is the prevalence of international crime gangs that is most significant,” a security source told us. It is understood the NCA is frustrated that details of Venetic have emerged before the operation is complete. Last week French and Dutch authorities presented the results of a joint investigation to dismantle EncroChat. Millions of messages exchanged between criminals to plan serious crimes were analysed. A large number of suspects have also been arrested in a number of countries across Europe including the UK, Sweden and Norway. Many of these investigations were connected with international drug trafficking and violent criminal activities. The interception of EncroChat messages came to an end on June 13th 2020 when the company realised it had been compromised.

With many thanks to the: Sunday World and Richard Sullivan for the EXCLUSIVE original story 

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RUC/PSNI conduct more than two dozen searches and make arrests during Operation into serious and organised criminality

RUC/PSNI officers carrying in raids in the North of Ireland with the assistance of the NCA ‘Op Venetic’ was targeting organised crime gangs using Encrypted Encrochat mobile phones
Police Service of Northern Ireland has conducted more than two dozen searches and made a significant number of arrests and seizures,including hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash in what is the UK’s biggest law enforcement operation against serious and organised criminality.

In recent weeks, PSNI carried out 25 searches across Northern Ireland as part of the National Crime Agency-led operation, Operation Venetic, working in collaboration with several other law enforcement partners across Europe and internationally.

Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn said Op Venetic is ‘one of the most significant investigations into serious and organised criminality conducted by our police service in collaboration with law enforcement partners across Europe and internationally’.

‘Op Venetic’ targeted organised crime groups operating using encrypted technology in a bid to evade law enforcement. To date, PSNI searches here in Northern Ireland have resulted in the seizure of 15 ‘Encro’ phones and more than £360,000 in cash.

Detective Chief Superintendent Freeburn said: “I’m really proud to tell you about the role that the Police Service of Northern Ireland have played in this.

“We all know that serious and organised criminals pose a significant risk of harm to the people of Northern Ireland. They are responsible for bringing in drugs and firearms into our communities and deal in fear and exploitation which can bring misery to many.

“This has been the largest and most significant law enforcement operation ever mounted in the United Kingdom in the fight against organised crime groups.  It has focused on attacking their use of encrypted communication called Encro devices on which individual members of crime groups co-ordinate their illegal activities.

“The organised crime groups thought that by using encrypted technology they could fly below the radar of law enforcement, however this operation should send a clear message that the combined strength of PSNI working in partnership with our law enforcement partners that no-one is beyond the reach of the law.

“Over the past couple of months, Detectives from our Criminal Investigations Branch have worked tirelessly with our partners in the National Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in reviewing this material and assessing what criminal offences have been committed.”

As well as the Encro phones and cash, suspected Class A and B drugs were seized, including 2.5kgs of suspected cannabis and cocaine. Three high-value vehicles and numerous pieces of documentation, laptops, a number of items of jewellery and designer handbags were also seized. Significantly, PSNI has mitigated over 15 threats to life during the operation.

Detective Chief Superintendent Freeburn: “We have secured evidence to prosecute a significant number of known criminals who thought they were beyond our reach. In Northern Ireland we have charged five people, four of whom have all been remanded in custody and one on High Court bail. The 44 charges range from conspiracy to commit murder, possession of significant amounts of criminal property, various drugs offences involving Class A and Class B drugs including conspiracy to import and also being concerned in the supply.

“This morning (Thursday, 2nd July) we have also arrested a 64-year-old man in the Newry area. Searches are currently ongoing and so we have seized another high end vehicle so far.

“And there will more to come as we continue to disrupt this criminal network operating here in Northern Ireland who have links to criminals both nationally and internationally.”

Deputy Director of Investigations for Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England, Craig Naylor, NCA said: “Operation Venetic is unprecedented across Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. It is the broadest and most significant co-ordinated piece of activity into serious organised crime intended to cause significant damage to organised crime groups.

“The NCA has worked with international partners and every single police force across the UK, to achieve these extraordinary results. Our partnerships with policing and especially the PSNI has allowed us to operate to dismantle groups that were previously thought to be beyond the reach of law enforcement.

“By working together we have penetrated organised criminal networks who thought they were untouchable by seizing significant amounts of criminal cash, stopping firearms and drugs reaching our streets to protect the people of Northern Ireland.”

With many thanks to the: PSNI NI, was directly taken from their website 

Leading Co Tyrone republican’s home searched in encrypted calls probe

A LEADING Co Tyrone republican’s house is among a number of properties searched as part of an investigation into organised criminality linked to the breach of the Encrochat communications network

BREACH: The high-security Encrochat handsets

The breach of one of the world’s most secure communications networks has already resulted in four people appearing in court in the North of Ireland, with dozens of other cases expected in the coming weeks. Encrochat market encrypted handsets and, while the technology is legal, the high degree of security makes the handsets  – which sell for up to £3,500 and can cost £1,500 for a sixth month contract  – attractive to organised crime networks. Encrochat sent an urgent message two weeks ago to all users to destroy their handsets after a cyber breach. Many of these cannot be used to make voice calls and use a WiFi signal rather than mobile networks, with users limited to text or picture messages.

NCA (National Crime Agency)

Users of the network received a message saying: “Due to the level of sophistication of the attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device. We took immediate action on our network by disabling connectivity to combat the attack. “You are advised to power off and physically dispose of your device immediately.” Subsequently a number of people have appeared in court on charges alleged to be based on encrypted phone evidence. To date four people have appeared at three separate court hearings, charged with a range of drugs and weapons offences. A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency told The Irish News “We are aware of reports relating to law enforcement action taken against Encrochat, however we do not routinely confirm or deny the NCA’s involvement in investigations.” 

With many thanks to: The Irish News and Allison Morris Security Correspondent for the original story –

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Dozens in court following encrypted handset breach


A BREACH of one of the world’s most secure communications networks  has resulted in a number of people appearing in court in the North of Ireland, with dozens of other cases expected in the coming weeks.

The high-security Encrochat market encrypted handset

Encrochat market encrypted handsets to security personnel around the globe. The technology is legal and was developed initially over privacy concerns. However, it is alleged that the high degree of security makes the handsets, which sell for up to £3,500, attractive to organised crime networks. Encrochat sent an urgent message last weekend to all users to destroy their handsets after a breach. Within hours police on both sides of the border were engaged in search and arrest operations. Encrochat cannot be used to make voice calls. It uses a WiFi signal rather than mobile networks and users are limited to text or picture messages. Last Saturday users received an urgent message saying security across Europe had been compromised for around 30 minutes. The company said: “Due to the level of sophistication of the attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device. We took immediate action on our network by disabling connectivity to combat the attack. “You are advised to power off and physically dispose of your device immediately”.

Subsequently a number of people have appeared in court charged with offences alleged to be based on encrypted phone evidence. Michael O’Loughlin, originally from Galway but with an address on the Upper Dromore Road in Warrenpoint, appeared in Newry court sitting in Lisburn on Wednesday. He faces two counts of conspiring with other people to commit murder, conspiring to possess firearms under suspicious circumstances, conspiring to make or supply a passport for a fraudulent purpose, conspiracy to rob, conspiracy to convert and transfer criminal property and a total of 11 drug offences. An officer told the court the evidence against O’Loughlin “has been obtained lawfully authorised clearance that has enabled access to his encrypted mobile phone content”. He denies the charges. Mr O’Loughlin’s lawyer, Ciaran Shields of Madden and Finucane, said: “The concerning feature here is the absolute dearth of press reporting and media attention in respect of a massive wholesale breach of an encrypted communication platform. “It appears that as many as 50 per cent of users have had their communications intercepted.

NCA (National Crime Agency)

“It is inconceivable that all of these communications that have been concerning the preparation, instigation, or commission of crime. “For this reason it is now incumbent on the National Crime Agency and the police to provide clarity on the lawful basis used to legally breach this network and seize this information as potential evidential product.” A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency said: “We are aware of reports relating to law enforcement action taken against Encrochat, however we do not routinely confirm or deny the NCA’s involvement in 

With many thanks to: The Irish News and ALLISON MORRIS Security Correspondent for the EXCLUSIVE report

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