From torture and murder in the Netherlands and Serbia to an unprecedented network of corruption in Belgium, the Sky ECC investigation has shed light on some of Europe’s darkest corners.
Sky ECC is a secure messaging app once highly regarded by underworld drug lords. However, after it was cracked by investigators in 2021, it brought some downfalls.
Police from Belgium, France and the Netherlands are currently sifting through a huge trove of messages sent in secret drug cartels and they have already begun making arrests.
Catherine De Bolle, chief executive of Europol, the EU police coordination body, said: “It is as if we are sitting at the same table with criminals.
Last year, Belgian police monitoring a massive drug smuggling operation at the North Sea port of Antwerp noticed activity concentrated on a covert network.
More than 48 people were arrested in a series of raids on 9 March 2021 and 200 facilities were searched, thanks in part to evidence in messages culled from Sky ECC records.
Antwerp is believed to be Europe’s main port of entry for cocaine from Latin America—90 tonnes were seized last year alone.
At the same time, French investigators are examining an “undeclared” communications network hosted on servers in France, collecting additional criminal data.
More than a year and a half later, detectives on both sides of the border agree that the Sky ECC investigation marks a turning point in the fight against drug cartels.
‘House of terror’
Eric Snoeck, director general of the Belgian Federal Judicial Police, told AFP that authorities had more than a billion Sky ECC messages at hand.
“We used a relatively small percentage of the available evidence,” he said. “It’s work in progress and will take years to complete.”
Since the breakthrough, more than 1,200 people have been detained for questioning in Belgium and 510 criminal case files have been opened and informed by Sky ECC data.
This week, messages discovered on a secret network have allowed police to launch a cross-border operation to dismantle a “meta-corporation” believed to control a third of Europe’s cocaine trade. Europe.
Officials in five countries have arrested 49 suspects, including six alleged drug lords based in Dubai.
Antwerp police alone opened 257 case files based on new evidence.
Ongoing investigations monitoring progress drug dealerbut they also show how far the gangs have penetrated Belgian society and economy.
In September, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced an increased police force to investigate and warned that the scope of organized crime activities far exceeded the country’s ports.
And if the scale of the networks is dizzyingly large, their violence will be worrisome.
Remy Heitz, prosecutor general at the Paris court of appeal, said: “They introduced into Europe behaviors that we thought were present in Latin America.
“Terrorists, murders, people executed on live video and share with viewers laugh. That’s how they manage these businesses.”
Snoeck describes “a level of violence absolutely unprecedented” and cites the discovery of shipping containers equipped as torture chambers in the Netherlands.
For a few thousand euros, for a contract not fulfilled, they kill without hesitation — sometimes after hours of pain — people they had worked with a few hours earlier, Snoeck said.
Text messages exchanged online allowed investigators to find a “house of terror” in Serbia near the capital Belgrade, where the victims were dismembered and put in a meat grinder.
While most of the high-profile figures arrested so far live in Dubai, the Western Balkans is also a hotspot for gangs.
After English, the most common language spoken on Sky ECC was Albanian, the investigators found.
Data from Sky ECC, marketed by the now-defunct Canadian company Sky Global, has been shared with authorities in 22 countries, including Colombia and Brazil.
Investigators who once faced the Moroccan-Dutch “Mocro-Maffia” and the ‘Ndrangheta Mafia in southern Italy now know that Latin American gangs have been transplanted on European soil.
“I am very worried,” an unnamed French judge told AFP.
“We are underestimating the danger of these networks in destabilizing the state and spreading violence to every corner of society.”
© 2022 AFP
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