Belgium Police seize 28 tons of cocaine after accessing encrypted communications

Police in Belgium has seized 28 tons of cocaine worth 1.4 billion euros in street value after encrypting a phone network used by criminals.

This is barely after six weeks after police made a record seizure of 27.64 tons of cocaine at the Port of Antwerp. 

Also read: EU authorities make record cocaine bust in Germany and Belgium

A record shipment worth 11 tons was shipped overnight from the 2nd to the 3rd of April according to a statement from the Belgian Federal Police on Monday. This illegal shipment was discovered during the Easter weekend, hidden in blue leather cargo. This raises the total amount of cargo seized in Belgium over the past 6 weeks past 25 tonnes. Police took full advantage of the decrypted operation to involve over 1500 officers targeting organized drug crime. 

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During the last bust over a month ago, the Belgian police arrested 48 people in an operation that involved over 1500 officers while targeting organized drug crime. On Tuesday, four more arrests were made. Among those apprehended were suspects working at the finance ministry, Antwerp city services, and others at the port. 

The prosecutor’s office revealed that the arrested officials were charged with bribery, gang membership, and abuse of trust. According to Belgian prosecutors, investigators have cracked Sky ECC’s encrypted messaging service intercepting over a billion messages held over a 2-year investigation. After the arrests, Sky ECC disputed any claims of being cracked or hacked arguing that a fake version of the app was illegally distributed and used when phishing users. 

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The port of Antwerp is Europe’s second-busiest seaports after Rotterdam and has become a major entry point for cocaine shipments. A report by the EMCDDA disclosed that cocaine and methamphetamine are smuggled by large ships. The report reveals that only 50,000 of the 11 million containers arriving from the port are searched. International smuggling of cocaine plays a critical role in intercepted smuggling reports. This isn’t the first time law enforcement agencies infiltrated the criminal encrypted platforms. 

Last year, the Netherlands and France infiltrated EncroChat platform sharing its data through Europol, giving police an opportunity to monitor private communications that include millions of photos and images of criminals. EncroChat became a favorite of criminals due to its secure and instant mobile messaging service. Over 60,000 people worldwide relied upon it for money laundering, the distribution of illicit goods, and when plotting to kill rivals. This was according to the UK's National Crime Agency. 

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In July, NCA launched an operation code-named “Lemont” where over 20 million euros, 25 tons of drugs, an assortment of weapons, expensive watches, and 25 cars were seized. In a joint statement, Europe’s law enforcement agencies and dutch police demanded 19 synthetic drug labs be dismantled.  

EncroChat handsets cost about £1,500 in 6-month contracts which arrived with pre-loaded instant messaging apps with an ability to make calls and a kill code for wiping them clean. 

Ph BreizhAtao / Shutterstock.com

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Wanted in Europe, part of the Wanted Worldwide network, is a website in English for expatriates in Europe established in 2006. We cover Europe's news stories that may be of interest to English speaking residents along with tourists as well. Our publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
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