Dutch cops take out encrypted chat service SkyECC; Thirty arrests
Over the past three weeks authorities in the Netherlands have been monitoring live traffic on the encrypted messaging service SkyECC, which lead police and the financial crimes inspectorate FIOD to raid 75 properties on Tuesday and arrest 30 suspects. Authorities said that 28 firearms were seized in Rotterdam as part of Operation Argus, as well as the SkyECC server.
Some 48 arrests were also made in Belgium, where 1.2 million euros was seized by investigators along with police uniforms, diamonds, and jewelry. Belgian authorities said the capture of roughly 17 thousand kilograms of cocaine was due to Operation Argus.
Previous raids in the same operation led to 43 arrests and the discovery of massive quantities of drugs. "It regards the international seizures of thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, hashish. In addition, several weapons and drug labs have been discovered and dismantled, and millions of euros have been seized," Dutch police said in a statement.
It was not yet revealed if last month's record cocaine and heroin busts valued at roughly 650 million euros were also linked to Operation Argus information. Investigators have been able to decrypt and read the SkyECC traffic in real time since mid-February, Dutch police said in a statement. During that time they have had access to hundreds of millions of messages the service's users sent, uncovering information about "dozens" of attempts to plan violent crimes in the Netherlands, like kidnappings, shootings, and assassinations.
"The company is now the largest provider of crypto-communications worldwide with about 70,000 users. In the Netherlands, approximately 11,000 Sky accounts have been allocated to Dutch users," police said. "Hundreds of millions of messages are being stored and examined in a data warehouse."
Some information has already been given to investigative teams, and "is expected to have an impact on organized crime in the near future." The Netherlands will also be sharing data with authorities in other countries. Already, "a number of major criminals have been identified, located and arrested nationally and internationally as a result of these investigations," police said.
Operation Argus is the follow-up to the Lemont investigation, which Dutch authorities used to take down the EncroChat service. That allowed police to discover a torture chamber allegedly prepared for up to seven murders, acts of official corruption, and to make dozens of arrests in the Netherlands and abroad particularly as they related to drug trafficking.