The dismantling of the encrypted communication tool EncroChat, frequently used by organised crime groups, has thus far given rise to 6,558 arrests worldwide. Of those arrested, 197 were considered “high value targets” by the police. This result is explained in the EncroChat presentation made by the French and Dutch judicial and police authorities in Lille, France.
The successful removal of EncroChat is the result of the efforts of a joint investigation team set up by France and the Netherlands in 2020, with the support of Eurojust and Europol. Since that time, nearly 900 million euros in criminal funds have been seized or frozen.
The dismantling of EncroChat in 2020 helped prevent violent attacks, assassination attempts, corruption and large-scale drug transports, as well as gain valuable information on organised crime.
Criminal groups around the world illegally used this encryption tool for criminal purposes. Since the takedown, investigators were able to intercept, share and analyse more than 115 million criminal conversations, by an approximate number of more than 60,000 users. User access points were prevalent in source and destination countries for the illicit drug trade, as well as money laundering centres.
The data acquired by the French and Dutch authorities was shared with their counterparts in EU member states and third countries. According to the cumulative figures of all the authorities involved, this resulted in the following results, three years after law enforcement broke the encryption:
- 6,558 suspects detained, including 197 high-value targets
- 7,134 years of imprisonment of offenders sentenced so far
- 739.7 million euros in seized cash
- 154.1 million euros frozen in assets or bank accounts
- 30.5 million chemical drug pills seized
- 103.5 tonnes of cocaine seized
- 163.4 tonnes of cannabis seized
- 3.3 tonnes of heroin seized
- 971 vehicles seized
- 271 foreclosed properties or homes
- 923 weapons seized, as well as 21,750 ammunition cartridges and 68 explosives
- 83 vessels and 40 planes seized
After discovering that the phones were regularly working during operations against criminal networks, investigations into the alleged criminal behaviour of the company using EncroChat were reopened by the French National Gendarmerie in 2017. Further investigations found that the company behind this tool operated through servers in France. Finally, a technical device could be put in place to go beyond the encryption technique and gain access to users’ correspondence.
EncroChat phones were conveyed as a guarantee of perfect anonymity, discretion and no traceability to users. They also had functions designed to ensure automatic deletion of messages and a specific PIN code to erase all data from the device. This would allow users to quickly delete compromising messages, such as at the time of arrest by the police.
Furthermore, the distributor could erase the device from a distance. EncroChat sold cryptophones internationally for about €1,000 each. It also offered subscriptions with global coverage, at a cost of 1,500 euros for a period of six months, with 24/7 assistance.
The illegal use of encrypted communications continues to receive a great deal of attention from law enforcement and judicial agencies across the EU. Criminals communicating via encryption received another blow in March 2021, following the dismantling of another such tool, SkyECC.