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News of #Encrochat: Major NI investigation into alleged drug dealers is facing collapse


 

A high-profile investigation into dozens of alleged major drug dealers could collapse over claims data used to prosecute them was obtained illegally.


Lawyers for more than 25 men in Northern Ireland facing Encrochat charges are to challenge the validity of the cases against their clients.


They have been buoyed by a ruling in the French Supreme Court which found that prosecutors failed to disclose sufficient information.


The judgment could have implications for cases running in Northern Ireland as French authorities were responsible for hacking the encrypted phone network used by criminals to conduct drugs and arms deals.


Data they shared with UK police between March and June 2020 led to the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) ‘Operation Venetic’.


This resulted in 1,380 people being charged and the seizure of 165 firearms, 3,400 rounds of ammunition, 5,600kg of Class A drugs and £75m in cash.


In Northern Ireland cops intercepted a £12m lorry-load of cannabis at Templepatrick — the biggest ever drugs find recorded here — and raided a £3m cigarette plant near the border.


Lawyers for the 35 people facing charges in connection with these, and other finds, are now hopeful rulings in the French courts could see the cases against their clients collapse.

Among those in the dock are All-Ireland winning ex-Tyrone GAA football star Peter Loughran (46) and Newry businessman Rory Trainor (44).


One legal source told Sunday Life: “Last week’s ruling by the French Supreme Court could have huge implications for the Encrochat UK cases.”


The French court found that prosecutors failed to disclose sufficient information about the hacking operation, and referred a criminal case involving it back to the Court of Appeal.


The landmark ruling came despite French police saying they could not reveal how the Encrochat investigation was undertaken in the interests of national security.


Defence lawyer Robin Binsard, co-founder of Binsard Martine which took the case, said secrecy around the Encrochat hack infringed the rights of defendants to a fair trial by depriving them of information about how the evidence against them was obtained.


The legal firm urged defence lawyers in other countries to appeal against the use of Encrochat evidence in court hearings.


In a statement, Binsard Martine said: “We invite our colleagues across Europe to pursue their appeals and to argue that the evidence from Encrochat is illegal, since it is not accompanied by the required attestation of sincerity, as admitted today by the Court of Cassation.”


In a further finding the French Supreme Court rejected claims the Encrochat operation was unlawful as it interfered with the right of individuals to a private life.


It also ruled that police in France should explain how they obtained intercept evidence from the phones, which were changing hands among criminals for £2,000.



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