Police have arrested eight people suspected of being behind the secretive global phone network EncroChat during an operation in Spain, Dubai, and the Dominican Republic, VICE World News has learned.
Coordinated by Europol and specialist French investigators, the string of arrests comes two years after French police hacked into the encrypted messaging network, used by thousands of high end criminals to discuss drug deals, money laundering and violence.
Since then, while thousands of career criminals have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted as a result of incriminating phone messages sent over EncroChat, police have been seeking information about the network’s operators.
Details of the arrests were first published in French newspaper Le Parisien. The main target of the operation, according to the report, was a Canadian suspect called “Paul K”. Police believe he was a key player in setting up and running EncroChat.
He was arrested in the Dominican Republic last month after police monitoring his movements realised he had become aware he was under surveillance and decided to act, according to the report. For reasons unknown he was then released.
Earlier this month Paul K’s wife was also arrested, as were six other people suspected of being involved in the running of EncroChat, three in Spain and three in Dubai, the report adds.
Do you know anything else about Encrochat or its owners? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The eight arrests are thought to be the first arrests of people involved in the setting up and running of EncroChat.
When contacted by VICE World News, Europol said it could not confirm the arrests because they are part of an ongoing operation, and expressed frustration that details of the arrests had been published in French media.
The Le Parisien report did not publish Paul K’s full name. However, according to a cache of emails previously obtained by VICE’s Motherboard and information from a source who interacted with EncroChat this name likely refers to Paul Krusky, a Canadian tech expert who Motherboard has found was integral to the early development and running of EncroChat.
In March 2021 Motherboard published details from a cache of emails that showed the shadowy corporate structure behind EncroChat. These emails were between people who worked with or on EncroChat. They revealed how the firm used a shell company in Panama and included an EncroChat member sharing the details of a bank account in Luxembourg with an associate for conducting EncroChat business.
At the time, Motherboard did not name this EncroChat member due to the risk they faced being deeply involved in an encrypted phone company that ultimately led to the arrests of thousands of alleged organised criminals.
Now that Krusky has been arrested, Motherboard can add that the EncroChat member who sent the emails was Krusky.
Krusky appears to have a background working with internet service providers, according to forum posts and archived webpages. A Paul Krusky is listed as working for an ISP that had servers in Waterloo, Ontario, according to forum posts from 2002.
Geoff Green, the founder of legitimate encrypted phone company Myntex, previously described to Motherboard his interactions with Krusky and what appears to be the very early stages of EncroChat. According to Green, at the time Krusky worked with a Canadian company that wanted to sell secure phones, but it had no customers. Eventually Krusky’s product operated under the name EncroChat, according to emails obtained by Motherboard.
When European authorities hacked EncroChat in 2020, after announcing the operation publicly, they asked the owners to come forward because they had been unable to identify them.
Law enforcement agencies around the world have increasingly targeted the creators and administrators of encrypted phone companies. Starting years ago in the Netherlands, Dutch police repeatedly arrested owners of firms that made PGP BlackBerrys, customised BlackBerry devices that had the ability to send encrypted emails. In some of those cases the charges stemmed around the owner’s alleged participation in money laundering.
That strategy of targeting owners morphed in 2018, when the FBI shuttered Phantom Secure, a popular provider of these phones, and arrested its CEO Vincent Ramos. U.S. authorities charged him under RICO, a law traditionally reserved for crime bosses. Then last year, U.S. authorities also charged Jean-Francois Eap, the CEO of the largest encrypted phone company called Sky Global, with similar offenses.
What has emerged is a deliberate strategy in which law enforcement agencies not only target users of the devices, sometimes with highly technical operations that obtain the content of their messages, but also those who run the encrypted phone companies themselves. It is not clear what charges Paul Krusky faces in his role with EncroChat.
Since the first EncroChat related busts began in 2020, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said police in Britain had so far arrested 2,864 people, prosecuted 1,571 and convicted 383—with many receiving hefty sentences for large scale drug trafficking. The hacking of the network was compared to “cracking the enigma code” by Nikki Holland, then director of investigations at the NCA.
Last month two EncroChat users were given life terms in May after being convicted of plotting a murder on the network, while James Harding, a Dubai-based British man alleged to be the head of on an international crime network, was charged with conspiracy to murder and cocaine trafficking.
Hundreds of other EncroChat users have been arrested across Europe. Last month the CEO of a drug trafficking organisation known by his underworld alias ‘Piet Costa’, was jailed for 17 years for drug importation, money laundering and setting up torture chambers inside shipping containers found by Dutch police in July 2020.
A group of lawyers representing defendants in EncroChat related cases recently published an open letter in which they said their clients have not received fair trials due to the intense secrecy around how French military police carried out the technical operation against EncroChat.