West Midlands police forces help UK’s biggest law enforcement operation
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Over £7m cash and more than 200kg class A drugs have been seized by West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (WMROCU) as part of a national operation to smash thousands of criminal conspiracies.
Working with the National Crime Agency (NCA), WMROCU has carried out months of work across the West Midlands region after an international law enforcement team cracked the encryption of communication platforms used exclusively by criminals.
EncroChat offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service to 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK. The sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.
Organised crime groups in the UK have been using EncroChat, communicating freely believing the technology made them secure. The criminal group behind EncroChat operated from outside the UK.
The phones – which have pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make VOIP calls and a kill code which wipes them remotely – have no other conventional smart phone functionality and cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.
Since 2016, the NCA has been working with international law enforcement agencies to target EncroChat and other encrypted criminal communication platforms by sharing technical expertise and intelligence.
Two months ago this collaboration resulted in partners in France and the Netherlands infiltrating the platform. The data harvested was shared via Europol. Unbeknown to users, the NCA and the police have been monitoring their every move since then under Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response.
In what has been described as the UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation, WMROCU has arrested 43 people and charged 11 over the last few months.
Simultaneously, European law enforcement agencies have also been targeting organised crime groups.
WMROCU has seized:
£7,202,535 in criminal cash
One firearm and one air weapon
Head of WMROCU, Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Baker, said: "Thanks to the intelligence we received, we were able to dovetail with international activity and bring operations to a conclusion much quicker.
"We have seized considerable amounts of cash, drugs, firearms and other commodities that we know were destined for local, national and international distribution.
"We specifically focussed on those thought to be involved in the highest levels of organised crime across our region.
"This work has undoubtedly saved lives by taking guns and drugs off the streets and we know we have made a huge contribution to making our streets much safer from organised crime gangs.
"Although the tactic has now been made public this does not mean the operation has stopped. The wealth of intelligence we have received means that investigations will be continuing into organised crime groups regionally and there will be many more warrants, arrests and prosecutions over the coming months as a result of this."
DCS Baker continued: "Operation Venetic began at the end of March just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK, and despite the virus, officers and staff in WMROCU worked relentlessly throughout – working on their days off, working very long days all at a time when most people stayed at home.
"The dedication by the teams has resulted in us being able to identify key people involved in serious organised crime across the whole West Midlands region over the last few months."
The West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit is made up of Officers from West Midlands Police, Staffordshire Police, West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police.