Nicknames, delivery codes, pictures of drugs or weapons – criminals thought they were safe calling with encrypted cell phones. About two years ago, European investigators managed to crack the data from the Encrochat provider. Since then, the police and judiciary have been grappling with a nationwide torrent of data: according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, there are about 1.6 million chat messages and nearly 750 users in Berlin alone. “A disproportionately large number of Encrochat users come from Berlin, about 15 percent,” says chief prosecutor Thorsten Cloidt, head of the organized crime division.
Tons of cocaine, hundreds of cases
In 40 cases, the Berlin Public Prosecutor’s Office has brought charges so far, many of which are now being heard in the regional court. According to the authorities, more than 100 other proceedings with at least one identified suspect are pending, and in nine other cases the perpetrator still needs to be identified. Also in Hamburg, such experiments are now part of everyday life, with two experiments involving the smuggling of several tons of cocaine.
“The majority of suspects in the proceedings are people we haven’t discovered yet,” says Attorney General Clloyd, who has long been responsible for clan and motorcyclist crimes in the capital. There is less reference to clan crimes, and rock is often influenced. It is mostly related to the drug trade. What is remarkable is the large number of crimes, not to mention the quantities of drugs. “People were sure that the data could not be decrypted,” Cluedt said.
“Real Gold Mine”: 20 million chat messages
“The system was intended for criminals,” says his colleague Rainer Putzhofen. The Senior Prosecutor heads the specialized department that was set up at the Berlin Prosecutor’s Office at the beginning of the year to handle the flow of data. Previously, police in the Netherlands and France hacked Encrochat in the spring of 2020 and pulled a total of more than 20 million secret chat messages for a few months. Meanwhile, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has decided that they can be used in Germany when it comes to solving serious crimes.
The data is a “real goldmine” as a starting point for various investigations, says spokesman for the Berlin State of Police (GdP), Benjamin Gendru. “Seldom have we previously had to deal with such open communication between small and large fish of organized crime that an open investigation quickly becomes a stab in a hornet’s nest and we have trouble cultivating everything at a given time.”
Large amounts of data – but only for a short time
Investigators and the judiciary agree: Because of the multitude of procedures and large amounts of data, development is a “blessing and a curse”. Because investigations must be done quickly because the suspects are under arrest, which is only possible for a limited time. Nationally, the police and judiciary responded and created special departments and increased staffing. According to the German Judges’ Association, 28 new positions for judges, prosecutors and service personnel have been created in Hamburg for a limited period of time.
“Cryptomobile phones will keep us busy for the next few years,” Cloidt is convinced. The following tough actions are heading towards investigators: In the spring, there were initial reports that the European police authority Europol had hacked the encryption of the Sky ECC communications system at the end of 2020 and obtained millions of chat messages from users around the world. the world. The database is said to be four times larger than the Encrochat database.
The first sentences: long prison sentences
Because of their ports, Hamburg and Bremen are among the main centers of drug crime, along with Berlin. According to a survey by the Association of Judges, more than 200 assault proceedings were processed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Hamburg last November, and there were approximately 150 in Bremen. There are also hundreds of suspected organized drug crime cases in North Rhine-Westphalia, with a focus on more than 300 cases in Dortmund. She added that in more than 1,000 cases, the defendants were in custody, referring to information from the Federal Criminal Police Office.
The first convictions were based on Encrochat statements now secured in Schleswig-Holstein, for example, where the Kiel Regional Court recently handed prison sentences of between four and a half and nearly seven years to three men, according to the state criminal police office. . In North Rhine-Westphalia, prison sentences of seven and eight years for drug smuggling are considered final, the Ministry of Justice in Dusseldorf announced.
Berlin Prosecutor Clwyd expects long prison terms in most cases. In light of the generous conversations in the chats, the evidence is often clear. “The accused’s only option left is to minimize the harm by making a comprehensive statement,” Clwyd explains. On this basis, the participants in the process can then agree on a lower sentence – this way they avoid long main hearings. “This is our hope,” Clwyd said.