Crime ‘kingpins’ among 400 jailed after Met Police crack ‘secure’ messaging app

The force used data taken from the platform to identify criminals, solve murders and tackle the drug trade

Harry Stedman
Monday 09 October 2023 10:40 BST
The Met Police’s Operation Eternal has resulted in 426 people being sent to prison (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
The Met Police’s Operation Eternal has resulted in 426 people being sent to prison (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

More than 400 criminals, including senior “kingpins” in organised crime, have been sent to prison in a Metropolitan Police operation targeting the EncroChat encrypted messaging platform.

The force said 426 people had been jailed for a total of 3,722 years behind bars in the investigation, named Operation Eternal, since it began in March 2020.

Led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and its own Operation Venetic, it used data taken from EncroChat to identify criminals, solve murders and tackle the drug trade, with more than 1,200 people jailed nationally.

Commander Paul Brogden, head of specialist crime at the Met, said it was “the most significant operation targeting organised crime figures in the Met’s history”.

EncroChat was a secret operating system accessed by a secure password on Android phones, with each user of the platform given a unique “handle” made up of a noun and an adjective.

The handsets, which cost £1,500, could only communicate with other EncroChat devices and could have all their data wiped if handed over to the authorities.

Commander Brogden told the PA news agency: “These criminals were using what we call a ‘hard and secure’ communication device, so effectively it’s like a social media platform that the criminals believed that we couldn’t access.

“They were playing out their lifestyles [on EncroChat], trading drugs, ordering violence and murder here on the streets of London, and we could see that play out in a way we’ve never seen before. It was a significant leap forward.”

The platform messaged users urging them to get rid of their handsets after realising it had been compromised by law enforcement in June 2020, and it was shut down shortly afterwards.

Commander Brogden said many of those uncovered in the operation were “the kingpins” of organised crime networks in London, adding: “They were sitting in their leafy enclaves and didn’t expect police to knock on their door and we did and brought them to justice, so I’m incredibly pleased about that.”

The Met said 942 arrests had been made in Operation Eternal so far, with 784 of those charged and 426 convicted.

Three tonnes of Class A and B drugs and 49 guns were also seized by the force.

Naki Aslan, 39, a high-ranking gang member, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for conspiring to import in excess of 20kg of heroin and cocaine as part of the operation.

Officers discovered Aslan had an encrypted phone and used the EncroChat handle ‘junglecookie’ to arrange drug transactions.

Messages were also found showing Aslan attempted to source a firearm, a Makarov pistol, to shoot a business associate in May 2020.

The EncroChat messages from Aslan read: “You got anyone to fire a couple of shots? From the waist down but urgent. I wanna get him popped ASAP.”

Craig Turner, deputy director for investigations at the NCA, described the operation as yielding “one of the most stunning results” and said EncroChat gave the organisation “an absolute gold mine of intelligence”.

In the UK-wide Operation Venetic, 3,100 suspects were arrested and 1,867 charged, with 7,000 mobile devices collected and around 18 million messages logged.

Detective Chief Inspector Driss Hayoukane, senior investigating officer for Operation Eternal, said there were significant trials coming up with some “iconic” criminals and the force was still working “at a pace” to make more arrests, with the operation ongoing.

Commander Brogden said the Met was working with the Home Office to look at whether a new legislative framework was needed for encrypted platforms going forward.

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