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Suspected Drug Smugglers Operating Via Messaging Services Arrested as Another is Jailed

Members of a suspected criminal group accused of trafficking heroin and producing amphetamine worth millions of pounds were arrested in the U.K. on March 10 as part of an investigation linked to encrypted communications. 

Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) officers arrested six of the group at addresses across Merseyside, supported by Merseyside Police, a seventh in Glasgow assisted by Police Scotland and the eighth was produced from prison. 

Analysis of messages acquired as part of Operation Venetic – an investigation into the encrypted messaging platform EncroChat – supported the investigation.

Officers believe they were planning to produce large quantities of amphetamine at a location in Scotland, as well as trafficking heroin from Scotland to Merseyside.

The group, aged between 34 and 66, remain in custody.

The arrests follow the sentencing of a man who went on the run after he became wanted for his part in a drug smuggling ring, operated via chat and messaging services.

Ajah Onuchukwu, 42, from Enfield, London, was jailed this month for eleven years after the NCA began investigating him and his associates in 2013 when cocaine was found in a parcel that had been sent from St Martens in the Caribbean to a North London address.

NCA investigators were able to link Onuchukwu and his group to at least 77 drug parcels that had been intercepted by Border Force, across 14 different addresses, between June 2008 and August 2014. 

They organized the transport of at least 4.8 kilos of cocaine and 210 kilos of cannabis over the time they were operating – worth an estimated £1.8 million if sold on the streets of the U.K. The group utilized messaging services such as Skype, Yahoo Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp to communicate with drug distributors in Africa, Asia and South America, advising them where to send the parcels.

After his initial arrest Onuchukwu fled the UK in 2015 while on bail and was listed as wanted by the NCA. He was captured on a European Arrest Warrant in the Netherlands in 2018 and extradited to the U.K. a year later.

Two other men were convicted in 2015 for their part in the conspiracy. Patrick Udensi, 39, from Enfield in north London, was believed to be the leader of the group and was sentenced to 14 years for conspiracy to import class A and B drugs. John Arinze Nwosu, 47, from Edgbaston, Birmingham, was found guilty of importing class B drugs but absconded before trial. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in his absence and remains wanted by the NCA.

Ian Truby, from the NCA’s Heathrow border investigation team, said: “The seizures we identified probably only cover a fraction of what this group managed to bring into the country. 

“Organized crime groups have been known to exploit infrastructure like the post and fast parcel system to bring illicit commodities into the U.K., and cause further exploitation and harm to communities.”

 

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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