Australian police arrest over 200 after cracking underworld messaging app

Motorbikes were among items seized in an Adelaide police operation

Criminal organizations around the world thought they were using the latest, most exclusive encrypted cellphone technology available to conduct business away from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

"Today, the Australian government, as part of a global operation, has struck a heavy blow against organised crime-not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world", Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Tuesday EST. "Everything we've been doing has been to keep Australians safe".

New Zealand police said they had arrested 35 people and seized drugs and assets worth millions of dollars.

What followed was Operation Ironside, where hundreds of alleged offenders were tricked into communicating via AN0M, an encrypted app designed by police.

So those included drug smuggling, money laundering and planned killings.

"Knocking out their communications has been a key part of us disrupting the organised crime", Commissioner Kershaw said.

The ANOM app was part of a worldwide sting called Operation Trojan Shield, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and involved the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Europol and law enforcement agencies in more than a dozen countries.

AFP officers around the world on Monday carried out hundreds of search warrants, arresting and charging more than 200 alleged criminal underworld figures and seized more than 3,000 kg of illicit drugs and 45 million Australian dollars (34.8 million US dollars) in cash and assets.

"Essentially we've been in the back pockets of organized crime", said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw.

The evidence prompted hundreds of arrests and foiled several large-scale drugs shipments, according to officials from several countries and unsealed United States court documents.

"Let me be clear". All the time, police were looking over the shoulders of criminals as they discussed hits, drug shipments and other crimes.

"[The texts] would be like, 'I need 1000 kilos at this price.' Very brazen". We will outsmart you.

"We were able to, with the cooperation of that particular state police force, take out that individual before they were able to do that".

In total over the course of the three years, more than 9,000 police officers across 18 countries were involved in maintaining the operation.

Senior members of the Comancheros in Waikato, Mongrel Mob in Waikato and the Head Hunters were among those arrested.

New Zealand police said they had laid more than 900 charges in relation to the 35 people arrested. There were still outstanding arrests to be made, National Organised Crime Group director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said.

Whether it was coordinating drug trafficking, money laundering or murders, every message tapped out on the phones was sent not only to the intended criminal underworld recipients, but delivered right into the hands of investigators.

Williams said these groups had been "preying" on some of New Zealand's most vulnerable communities.

Mr Kershaw also warned the country's most-wanted fugitive to turn himself in rather than fall victim to a mob hit after he unwittingly helped spread the AN0M app to his associates after receiving it from undercover agents.

In the past three years, NZ Police had found up to 20 organised crime groups that had been carrying out crime across worldwide borders. The massive wiretap operation revealed a litany of criminal schemes, authorities said, and resulted in numerous coordinated raids in Europe.

"We believe the termination of these operations will have a significant impact on New Zealand's organised crime scene".



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