EncroChat dismantling lead to 6500 arrests, EUR 900 million seized
Worldwide, 6558 arrests follow the dismantling of EncroChat, a tool favored by organized crime groups (OCGs). 197 of those arrested were high-value targets. This result is detailed in the first review of EncroChat, presented today by the French and Dutch judicial and law enforcement authorities in Lille.
The successful takedown of EncroChat followed the efforts of a joint investigation team (JIT) set up by both countries in 2020, supported by Eurojust and Europol. Since then, nearly EUR 900 million in criminal funds have been seized or frozen.
The dismantling of EncroChat in 2020 sent shockwaves across OCGs in Europe and beyond. It helped to prevent violent attacks, attempted murders, corruption, and large-scale drug transports, as well as obtain large-scale information on organized crime.
OCGs worldwide illegally used the encryption tool EncroChat for criminal purposes. Since the dismantling, investigators managed to intercept, share and analyze over 115 million criminal conversations by an estimated number of over 60,000 users. User hotspots were prevalent in source and destination countries for the trade in illicit drugs, as well in money laundering centers.
The information obtained by the French and Dutch authorities was shared with their counterparts in EU Member States and third countries at their request. Based on accumulated figures from all authorities involved, this led to the following results three years after the encryption was broken by law enforcement:
- 6558 suspects arrested, amongst whom 197 high-value targets
- 7134 years of imprisonment of convicted criminals up to now
- EUR 739.7 million in cash seized
- EUR 154.1 million frozen in assets or bank accounts
- 30.5 million pills of chemical drugs seized
- 103.5 tonnes of cocaine seized
- 163.4 tonnes of cannabis seized
- 3.3 tonnes of heroin seized
- 971 vehicles seized
- 271 estates or homes seized
- 923 weapons seized, as well as 21 750 rounds of ammunition and 68 explosives
- 83 boats and 40 planes seized
Investigations into the alleged criminal conduct of the company operating EncroChat were restarted by the French Gendarmerie Nationale in 2017, after discovering that the phones were regularly found during operations against OCGs. Subsequent investigations established that the company behind the tool operated via servers in France. Eventually, it was possible to place a technical device to go beyond the encryption technique and obtain access to users’ correspondence.
A case was opened at Eurojust in 2019 by the French authorities. In the first instance, data was shared with the Netherlands, which led to the setting up of the JIT in April 2020. Since then, information on criminal activities was shared with national authorities within and outside the EU, at their request. Given ongoing investigations, Eurojust and Europol cannot disclose a complete list of authorities involved.
Background on EncroChat and encrypted communications
EncroChat phones were presented as guaranteeing perfect anonymity, discretion and no traceability to users. It also had functions intended to ensure the automatic deletion of messages and a specific PIN code to delete all data on the device. This would allow users to quickly erase compromising messages, for example at the time of arrest by the police.
In addition, the device could be erased from a distance by the reseller/helpdesk. EncroChat sold cryptotelephones for around EUR 1000 each, on an international scale. It also offered subscriptions with worldwide coverage, at a cost of 1500 EUR for a six-month period, with 24/7 support.
The illegal use of encrypted communications continues to receive major attention from judicial and law enforcement agencies across the EU. OCGs communicating via encryption were dealt another blow in March 2021, following the dismantling of the SkyECC tool. Both Eurojust and Europol remain at the disposal of national authorities in case further support is required regarding encrypted communications by criminals.