Court finds EncroChat hacked messages admissible as former footballer is jailed

A former Liverpool youth footballer has been jailed for supplying treatment after a resolve dominated that messages and info harvested by police from the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone network would possibly also also be lawfully outdated-fashioned as evidence in the case.

The case, known as Embossed II, was the “lead case” in a long-working appropriate form argument over whether or not evidence obtained by French police from the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone network is legally admissible in the UK courts. Jamie Cassidy, 46, was jailed for 13 years and three months for taking allotment in a neat treatment conspiracy, after his actions comprise been exposed by messages intercepted from the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone network.

He was sentenced with his brother Jonathan Cassidy, 50, from Crosby in Merseyside, and Nasar Ahmed, 51, from Bury, at Manchester Crown Court on 21 March, over their involvement in a neat international treatment operation. They pleaded guilty after Resolve Nicholas Dean, the recorder of Manchester, discovered that messages obtained from the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone network would possibly also merely be lawfully outdated-fashioned as evidence in the case.

Dean additionally cleared the National Crime Company and Crown prosecutors of “abuse of process” and dismissed arguments from defence lawyers that the agency had deliberately did not disclose technical evidence mandatory by educated witnesses hired by the defendants.

The three men comprise been arrested in 2020 after French police hacked into the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone network and passed on messages to the National Crime Company, which ended in their identification as contributors in an operation to import and distribute cocaine in the UK. It was allotment of a wider operation that ended in French police acquiring 115 million messages from an estimated 60,000 customers of EncroChat phones worldwide.

Police forces and regulation enforcement companies in the UK comprise made bigger than 3,100 arrests, convicted 1,500 offenders, recovered over nine tonnes of Class A treatment, and seized 3,500 rounds of ammunition and £84m in cash, based on figures from Better Manchester Police.

In a written ruling on 18 March that can now be reported, Resolve Dean stated there was exiguous doubt that a vast amount of info was retrieved, and that the topic cloth, if admissible, implicates these proved to comprise outdated-fashioned the handsets to send and receive messages in extreme crime. “Regardless of else, this is not a case of mistaken or corrupted intention giving the appears to be like of folk being interesting about criminal job,” he stated.

Storage vs transmission

The case is the most fashionable to address the quiz of whether or not EncroChat evidence would possibly also also be lawfully outdated-fashioned as evidence in courts.

Beneath UK regulation, mobile phone calls or info intercepted at some stage at some stage in transmission are prohibited from being outdated-fashioned as evidence, and can’t be referred to at some stage in a court docket hearing to provide protection to the solutions outdated-fashioned by intelligence companies and regulation enforcement.  

The restriction, however, does not note if the identical info is obtained from storage in an digital intention through a hacking – additionally known as equipment interference – operation.

The French comprise refused to disclose how the infiltration operation in opposition to EncroChat was implemented, citing defence secrecy. 

Prosecutors argued that French police contaminated EncroChat phones with a tool implant that obtained the supposedly stable encrypted messages from digital storage in mobile phone handsets, and comprise been due to the this truth admissible under UK regulation.

Lawyers representing the defendants, however, argued there was evidence that EncroChat messages comprise been intercepted at some stage at some stage in transmission, and steered educated witnesses to reverse-engineer EncroChat phones to discover how the interception process labored.

The defence arguments comprise been dismissed by Dean in a ruling dated 18 March that discovered EncroChat messages comprise been intercepted at a time they comprise been “saved in or by the (telecommunications intention)”, in preference to at some stage at some stage in transmission.

He stated the issue had been litigated at least twice, together with at some stage in two preparatory hearings that comprise been scrutinised by the Court of Enchantment.

Transient storage is nonetheless storage

Consistent with submissions made by the French authorities to the European Court of Human Rights in April 2020, the French police outdated-fashioned a “particular investigative approach” to bypass EncroChat encryption that was able to recording key strokes, shooting display shots, and gaining access to and gathering info contained in a “digital terminal”.

The resolve stated an analogy outdated-fashioned in the French submission, which in comparison the hacking operation to a search of a building containing unlawful objects such as treatment or fireplace arms, is consistent handiest with the French authorities regarding the total info as having been unruffled from storage in handsets.

The French implant unruffled info in two stages. At some stage in stage 1, both aspect agreed the implant retrieved historic info, such as undeleted messages, from storage in a database on the EncroChat handsets.

Stage 2 was extra controversial. Defence lawyers argued that evidence confirmed messages comprise been captured are residing or in precise time, at some stage at some stage in transmission, while prosecutors argued the messages comprise been obtained from storage in the mobile phone handsets.

The resolve concluded that references to “are residing” or “precise-time” interception in evidence offered at some stage in the case referred to info captured and picked up from storage earlier than it was transmitted to the French authorities. Any “storage” earlier than the implant unruffled the guidelines will seemingly be “very transient”, nonetheless “very transient storage is nonetheless storage”.

Abuse of process

Defence lawyers argued that the defendants did not comprise the chance to most fashionable educated evidence on how the EncroChat evidence was obtained. They stated the Crown had deliberately restricted the disclosure of technical evidence, and delayed or concealed disclosure of evidence to cease the defendants discovering how EncroChat info was intercepted.

The resolve stated there comprise been ingredients of the Crown’s potential to disclosure that comprise been not as a lot as optimal, and that “some criticism” of its behavior is not misplaced, nonetheless that there was “no misconduct”.

Between March 2022 and March 2023, defence lawyers asked the NCA to disclose technical info and contaminated EncroChat phones to assist an educated witness, Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge College, and later, Czeck firm Invasys, to reverse-engineer the implant.

The process exposed “disclosure complications” and published a “incessantly sub-optimal potential by the Crown”, nonetheless the resolve discovered that failures in disclosure comprise been a final consequence of the size of the EncroChat cases in the UK and the early distribution of EncroChat info to disparate police forces.

Public curiosity immunity

Dean issued an show requiring the NCA and prosecutors to disclose two EncroChat phones and the approach outdated-fashioned by the NCA to extract EncroChat APK files from the mobile phone to defence consultants to wait on their figuring out of how the phones labored, on 13 March 2020.

Prosecutors applied for Public Hobby Immunity (PII) on 13 April, and on 17 Could well per chance, the resolve issued an show to cease the disclosure of the APK approach and the contaminated handsets. The PII ruling additionally averted the disclosure of fresh info that, based on prosecutors, “definitively establishes that the EncroChat topic cloth was … intercepted, at a time when it was saved on the connected EncroChat handsets”.

Dean wrote in his ruling on 18 March: “Although I agree that there is constantly one thing unsatisfactory about any trial process in which connected evidence cannot be deployed, unsatisfactory is not unfair.”

Simon Csoka KC, defending, had told the court docket the NCA and CPS had championed an at-most effective obstructive and at-worst dishonest potential to disclosure. The resolve acknowledged that Csoka did not manufacture these assertions gratuitously, nonetheless had pointed to evidence he described as a CPS approach of dishonesty and obfuscation.

The resolve discovered that the evidence was not consistent with a “malign and unlawful approach”, nonetheless reasonably with a prosecution crew discussing and incessantly combating the complexities of the EncroChat investigation and prosecution, and with the “sheer scale of their task”.

No oral evidence heard

Resolve Dean rejected calls from defence lawyers to hear oral evidence at some stage in the trial from Emma Sweeting, the intelligence operations supervisor on the NCA, Luke Shrimpton, a former NCA senior technical educated, and Jeremy Decou, an officer on the French Gendarmerie.

The resolve discovered that Emma Sweeting and Jeremy Decou comprise been largely reporting things they had been told by others in written evidence in regards to the French hacking operation, nonetheless rejected claims by defence lawyers that they amounted to “quite loads of rumour” and would possibly also merely not be admitted.

The resolve additionally discovered that any technical evidence Shrimpton had given in previous cases was no longer helpful in figuring out the details connected to storage versus transmission, and made up our minds not to comprise in ideas it.

The resolve additionally rejected defence arguments that a letter of request by CPS to the French asking for clarification of how the implant labored told the French what the CPS wished to hear, and signposted the catastrophic penalties of giving an resolution that did not give a boost to the Crown’s case that EncroChat messages had been taken from storage.

Defence lawyers additionally argued that the French answer deliberately answered a selected quiz in show to withhold away from telling an outright lie. The resolve stated that the argument was “fanciful”.

Main junior scorer at Liverpool FC

Jamie Cassidy had been a leading scorer for Liverpool Soccer Club’s under-16s, and was described as a prodigy earlier than his profession was cut fast with injuries.  

The court docket heard that Jamie Cassidy had been drawn into a conspiracy to import neat quantities of substances by his brother, Jonathan Cassidy.

The three men outdated-fashioned anonymous handles on EncroChat. Jonathan Cassidy outdated-fashioned “whiskywasp”, Amed outdated-fashioned “dottetdaw” and Cassidy outdated-fashioned “nucleardog”.

The court docket heard that Jonathan Cassidy had joked that he shared the identical birthday as El Chapo, a treatment kingpin featured in an episode of Narcos.

Nasar Ahmed admitted acting as a money transfer agent for deals organized by Jonathan Cassidy to import cocaine to the UK from the Netherlands.

The court docket heard that in April 2020, Ahmed switched from an EncroChat mobile phone to at least one more encrypted mobile phone, Sky ECC, amid concerns EncroChat would possibly also merely comprise been compromised. He was arrested at his dwelling on 15 June 2020, two days after the administrators of EncroChat establish out a warning that the network had been infiltrated and was no longer stable.

Jonathan Cassidy flew to Dubai after discovering out about Ahmed’s arrest, where he regarded as purchasing for a villa with a budget of £2.3m, which he supposed to furnish with a £22,000 mattress. He was arrested at Manchester Airport when he returned to England in October 2020.

Detectives estimated that Jonathan Cassidy and Nasar Ahmed comprise been interesting about importing shut to £26m of substances to the UK.

Sentencing, Dean stated that regardless that EncroChat phones comprise been outdated-fashioned by organised crime groups, there comprise been barely free ties between Ahmed and Jonathan Cassidy. “It will in all probability most doubtless not be acceptable to assert that Jonathon Cassidy and Nasar Ahmed comprise been allotment of an organised crime crew,” he added. “They comprise been working independently, nonetheless to their joint mutual assist.”

The resolve stated Jamie Cassidy had a extra restricted involvement in the drug conspiracy. The court docket heard that he labored as a prison listener with the Samaritans.  

Tenacious appropriate form design back

Wayne Johns, the NCA’s Operation Venetic senior investigating officer, stated: “The Cassidy brothers and Ahmed pleaded guilty in this case after years of tenaciously not easy the legality of the case in opposition to them. The NCA and Crown Prosecution Service labored with GMP to robustly defend the design back, and we now witness the trio where they belong.”

Detective Constable Marc Walby from the Better Manchester Police Excessive Organised Crime Team stated the three men comprise been from the upper echelons of organised criminals that feature in Better Manchester.

“Jonathan Cassidy and his colleagues bought far too pleased with their encrypted phones and started bragging about their personal lives, nonetheless this precise confirmed what we already knew about them,” he stated. “Sarcastically, it was this bravado and these messages which comprise landed them in penitentiary for a in actuality very long time.

“This has been a long-working and complex case, and I would favor to thank the NCA and CPS for their pursuit in defending the precise form challenges associated with this case. Without, these convictions would possibly also merely not comprise been that it is in all probability you’ll most doubtless most doubtless also recall to mind.”

Jonathan Cassidy of Whitewood Park, Liverpool, was jailed for 21 years and nine months for conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to present cocaine, and conspiracy to cowl, transfer and disguise criminal proceeds. Nasar Ahmed of Moreton Drive, Bury, was jailed for 21 years and nine months for conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to present cocaine, and conspiracy to cowl, transfer and disguise criminal proceeds. Jamie Cassidy of Knowsley Lane, Knowsley, was jailed for 13 years and three months for conspiracy to present cocaine, and conspiracy to cowl, transfer and disguise criminal proceeds.

A manhunt is underway for one more suspect, Joshua Avis, who absconded at some stage in pre-trial hearings. 

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