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Executive alleged to be behind EncroChat encrypted phone network arrested

France has secured the extradition of a businessman accused of playing a key role in the EncroChat encrypted phone network used by drug dealers and organised criminal groups from the Dominican Republic. ps.

The businessman, who has not been named by the French Ministry of Justice, faces 16 conspiracy charges relating to drug trafficking, money laundering and the unlawful supply of cryptographic equipment.

The suspect was first arrested in the Dominican Republic in May 2020, where he remained under house arrest until he was extradited to France last week at the request of the public prosecutor in Lille, France.

The extradition, which follows the arrest and extradition to France in 2022of three Spanish nationals accused of selling EncroChat phones, highlights moves by the French police to pursue the individuals suspected of running the EncroChat business.

Police investigations outside of France have largely focused on organised crime gangs that used EncroChat encrypted phones – which were compromised in a hacking operation by French and Dutch police in 2020 – for drug dealing and money laundering.

The EncroChat network relied on servers hosted in a French datacentre, run by cloud services company OVH at Roubaix in Lille. Under French law, it is illegal to supply cryptographic services without notifying the French government.

An international operation by police from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries has led to the arrests of over 6,000 suspects and the seizure of €600m, after French and Dutch investigators gained access to servers used by the EncroChat network at the French datacentre.

The suspect, who was arrested with assistance from European judicial organisation Eurojust, has been accused of participating in a conspiracy to illegally import and acquire illicit drugs, and aiding and abetting the illegal possession, supply and transfer of drugs.

The businessman is also suspected of participating in a criminal conspiracy, aggregated money laundering, illegal arms possession and supplying or transferring a cryptographic device without prior declaration to the French authorities.  

The French Gendarmerie Nationale began investigations into EncroChat in 2017 after finding EncroChat handsets in the possession of organised criminal gangs.

Subsequent investigations showed that EncroChat was running on servers in the Roubaix datacentre, allowing French police, with the assistance of Dutch experts, to reverse engineer the system and develop an implant to harvest messages from 60,000 phone users worldwide.

French investigators were able to harvest over 115 million supposedly encrypted messages sent by users of EncroChat devices between April and 13 June 2020, when users received a message warning users them that the network had been compromised.

In June 2020, the French newspaper Le Parisien reported that a Canadian national described as the CEO of EncroChat had been arrested in the Dominican Republic.

Three Spanish nationals were extradited from Spain to France to face charges that they supplied EncroChat encrypted phones that were used by organised crime groups in September 2022.

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