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NI man charged in UK’s biggest police operation against organised crime after 'top secret' network intercept

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Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn and Craig Naylor, National Crime Agency Deputy Director Investigations. Photo Pacemaker Press

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn and Craig Naylor, National Crime Agency Deputy Director Investigations. Photo Pacemaker Press

Police carried out a series of raids across NI.

Police carried out a series of raids across NI.

'Encro' phones have been seized.

'Encro' phones have been seized.

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

Police in Northern Ireland have made a "significant" number of arrests and seized hundreds of thousands of pounds in a major UK sting against organised crime.

It comes after the the National Crime Agency (NCA) said a top-secret communications system used by criminals to trade drugs and guns had been "penetrated".

More than two dozen searches have been carried out by the PSNI.

A 64-year-old arrested in Northern Ireland on Thursday morning has been charged with a number of offences including possession of criminal property, conspiracy to convert criminal property, possession of a Class A controlled drug and conspiring to fraudulently import a Class A controlled drug.

He is expected to appear before Craigavon Magistrates Court on Friday.

As is normal procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

The raids were part of the NCA's 'Operation Venetic', which targets organised crime groups operating using encrypted technology in a bid to evade law enforcement.

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Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

Photos of Operation Venetic, including some of the vehicles and cash seized

The NCA-led operation saw the PSNI carry out 25 searches across Northern Ireland in collaboration with European and international partners.

Five other people have been charged as part of the operation, four of whom have been remanded in custody and one on High Court bail.

They collectively face 44 charges ranging from conspiracy to commit murder, possession of significant amounts of criminal property, various drugs offences involving Class A and Class B drugs including conspiracy to import and also being concerned in the supply.

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'Encro' phones have been seized.

'Encro' phones have been seized.

'Encro' phones have been seized.

As part of the operation, 15 'Encro' phones have been seized - custom encrypted devices which are thought to be ultra secure - along with more than £360,000 in cash.

Suspected Class A and B drugs have also been seized, including 2.5kgs of suspected cannabis and cocaine.

Three high-value vehicles and numerous pieces of documentation, laptops and a number of items of jewellery and designer handbags were also seized. A high-end vehicle has been seized as part of Thursday's operation in Newry and search operations are ongoing.

The PSNI said it has mitigated over 15 threats to life during the operation.

Detective Chief Superintendent Freeburn said: "This has been the largest and most significant law enforcement operation ever mounted in the United Kingdom in the fight against organised crime groups. It has focused on attacking their use of encrypted communication called Encro devices on which individual members of crime groups co-ordinate their illegal activities.

"The organised crime groups thought that by using encrypted technology they could fly below the radar of law enforcement, however this operation should send a clear message that the combined strength of PSNI working in partnership with our law enforcement partners that no-one is beyond the reach of the law."

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PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn and Craig Naylor, National Crime Agency Deputy Director Investigations. Photo Pacemaker Press

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn and Craig Naylor, National Crime Agency Deputy Director Investigations. Photo Pacemaker Press

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn and Craig Naylor, National Crime Agency Deputy Director Investigations. Photo Pacemaker Press

Evidence has now been secured to prosecute a number of known criminals who thought they were beyond the PSNI's reach, said Detective Chief Superintendent Freeburn. “And there will more to come as we continue to disrupt this criminal network operating here in Northern Ireland who have links to criminals both nationally and internationally.”

Craig Naylor, the deputy director of investigations for Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England, said the operation was unprecedented across Northern Ireland and Europe.

"It is the broadest and most significant co-ordinated piece of activity into serious organised crime intended to cause significant damage to organised crime groups.

"The NCA has worked with international partners and every single police force across the UK, to achieve these extraordinary results. Our partnerships with policing and especially the PSNI has allowed us to operate to dismantle groups that were previously thought to be beyond the reach of law enforcement."

Belfast Telegraph