Police in Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday unveiled a major three-year operation that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of organized crime suspects through access to an “encrypted” communications platform.
The European Union police agency (Europol), based in The Hague, Netherlands, had said it would hold a press conference on Tuesday concerning what it described as “a major law enforcement action against some of the world’s foremost criminals” in more than a dozen countries.
“This operation is the most sophisticated effort to date in disrupting the activities of criminals operating from all four corners of the world,” Europol said.
Representatives from the FBI and Dutch, Swedish and Australian federal police would also be present, Europol added.
German authorities also said police had carried out raids linked to the operation.
What did Australia and New Zealand reveal?
Australia and New Zealand said they had access to the supposedly secure “ANoM” platform for years.
“The encrypted communications — which allegedly included plots to kill, mass drug trafficking and gun distribution — were decrypted from a platform covertly run by the FBI,” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said.
AFP arrested 224 people, who were now facing more than 526 charges. AFP also shut down six underground drug labs and seized firearms and dozens of millions of dollars in cash.
“We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups,” federal police commissioner Reece Kershaw said.
“We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale.”
The operation “has struck a heavy blow against organised crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
New Zealand Police described the operation as the “world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action against organised crime to date.”
Security forces seized methamphetamine, firearms, and millions of dollars in cash and assets during the operation.
Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said 35 people were arrested in New Zealand on 900 “serious drug dealing, money laundering and other conspiracy-type charges” and were due to appear in court Tuesday.
Australia said Interpol and the FBI would hold news conferences later on Tuesday.
What about Germany?
In Germany, security efforts were particularly intense in Hesse and Frankfurt, according to DPA, with other raids elsewhere in the country.
DPA news agency reported that German police raided over a hundred apartments, warehouses and business premises in Monday’s raids.
Security forces made arrests in the western city of Wiesbaden. However, the numbers were not immediately available.
Raids also took place in the western city of Essen on Monday
A German Interior Ministry spokesman had declined to confirm reports that the raids were linked to the FBI’s hacking of encrypted communications networks used by criminals.
“I can confirm that there are currently criminal procedural measures in Germany but also in other countries around the world against people who are suspected of involvement in organized crime,” Steve Alter told reporters in Berlin. “These measures are currently ongoing.”
Last year, European police cracked an encrypted communications network, known as EncroChat, used by criminal gangs across the continent.
Belgium arrested dozens of suspects earlier this year after police cracked Sky ECC, another encrypted chat system. Authorities then seized over 17 tons of cocaine.
fb/msh (AP, dpa, LUSA)