A man was arrested in Liverpool, England Friday after posting a photo holding a block of Stilton cheese. According to Merseyside Police, the man’s arrest was the latest in a string of arrests connected to an international operation targeting criminals who use a mobile encryption service to evade police detection.
The man arrested, Carl Stewart, was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison Friday for conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, conspiracy to supply MDMA, conspiracy to supply ketamine and transferring criminal property, according to the Merseyside police website.
Said Inspector Lee Wilkinson in a statement on Merseyside Police’s website: “Carl Stewart was involved in supplying large amounts of class A and B drugs, but was caught out by his love of Stilton cheese, after sharing a picture of a block of it in his hand through EncroChat. His palm and fingerprints were analyzed from this picture and it was established they belonged to Stewart.”
To use EncroChat, a European encrypted communications service, users such as Stewart had to own an encrypted mobile device known as an EncroPhone, said a release from UK-based cybersecurity company CYFOR. Users could only use the phone to send images and text messages to other EncroChat users, and the network could only be accessed through a wi-fi network, rather than a mobile phone network. The phone’s GPS, camera and microphone were are all disabled for added security.
Somewhere between March and June 2020, after many unsuccessful attempts, police finally infiltrated the network and began reading through millions of messages in an operation known as Operation Venetic. When users received a notification in June that the network had been compromised, it was shut down, but not before the information from the operation could be shared with law enforcement offices across Europe.
So far, police have identified 60,000 EncroChat users worldwide, all of whom play some role in the coordination and distribution of weapons, drugs, money laundering, etc. According to multiple reports, 10,000 of those users live in the UK. Stewart’s arrest was the most recent made by Merseyside Police in connection to the international operation.
Merseyside Police have arrested 60 people so far in connection to the service, many of whom, said Wilkinson, were charged with drug trafficking and firearms offenses.
“Merseyside Police, along with law enforcement agencies across the world, will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of those people who think they are above the law, and we will continue to target anyone involved in serious organized crime to keep this positive momentum going,” Wilkinson said.