EncroChat exposes mafia that smuggled 117 millions of cigarettes into the UK

Thanks to the EncroChat hack, the British authorities managed to arrest a criminal group that smuggled more than 100 million cigarettes, resulting in a tax fraud of more than £36 million. Cigarettes were introduced into British territory hidden in trucks, generating high profits for criminals; Hazhar Mohammad-Pani, 31, and Hubert Smolarek, 41, were each sentenced to 7 years in prison.

As mentioned above, this case was solved thanks to the compromise of the EncroChat network, a highly encrypted messaging platform that was hacked by law enforcement, which allowed investigating in detail the activity of multiple cybercriminal groups. This incident seemed to matter little to smugglers, who continued to use EncroChat to manage their fraudulent operation, especially during the first pandemic lockdown.

In their messages, the members of this operation referred to the £10,000 packages as “sandwiches”, which had to be hidden before being mounted on trucks that would be taken to various parts of Europe; authorities also discovered that, to refer to the UK, criminals used the codename “the island”.

Authorities recovered conversations that criminals had through EncroChat between March and June 2020, discovering that some 117 million cigarettes had been smuggled for tax evasion. Police managed to seize some 14 million cigarettes at the time of the raids. The investigation also concluded that about £8 million of the group’s profits were taken from the UK and sent to Poland, so police believe this fraudulent scheme was operated from that country.

The individuals mentioned above were identified as the primary responsible for packaging the smuggled cigarettes and loading the trucks, as well as overseeing their arrival at the scheduled destination. Both were sentenced Tuesday after being found guilty of tax evasion and conspiracy to smuggle illegal property.

About EncroChat, cybersecurity experts mention that this was an important anonymous communications network, widely used by cybercriminal groups across Europe. After years of investigation, in mid-2020 the authorities of various countries managed to infiltrate this network, which eventually ceased to operate.

The EncroChat information obtained by the authorities has made it possible to investigate multiple criminal cases and, in cases like this, to arrest various threat actors.

To learn more about information security risks, malware variants, vulnerabilities and information technologies, feel free to access the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) websites.