Alleged ringleader in major Belgian cocaine trial faces 20 years in prison

Belgian federal prosecutors on Monday demanded the maximum prison sentence of 20 years for Bilal I, 35, one of the alleged ringleaders in the ongoing Encrochat/Sky ECC drug trafficking trial. 

Bilal I is one of 129 defendants on trial for importing cocaine from South America and cannabis from Morocco. The trial, which began in December, is the largest criminal trial in Belgian history.

According to the prosecution, Bilal I imported tonnes of cocaine into Europe from Latin America. The cocaine was allegedly delivered to Eridan MG, one of the other alleged ringleaders. Prosecutors also demanded that the man be fined 800,000 euros and ordered the confiscation of 10 million euros and two properties.

Pictures of cocaine, money and drug labs

According to the prosecutors, Bilal I was unemployed between 2014 and 2020 and earned a maximum of 1,500 euros a month in this time. Despite this, he was arrested in February 2020 with 35,000 euros in his car and another 15,000 euros found in his home. A few months later, police caught the man again, this time carrying 9,000 euros.

"He also travelled to Medellín in Colombia in recent years, several times to Turkey and to Spain almost every month," said federal magistrate Julien Moinil. "This is all remarkable for someone with such a limited income."

More significant, according to Moinil, are the conversations found on the various Sky ECC smartphones owned by Bilal I. "In the SKY conversations we find pictures of large amounts of cocaine and large sums of money, of drug labs, of transport ships in a foreign port," he said.

Complete control over ports

"We also find conversations with people from Latin America about people who have stolen drugs and should be punished or killed, and a picture of an almost naked man tied to a chair with a hood over his head," Moinil said.

According to the prosecution, there are also conversations with Eridan MG about several shipments of cocaine from Brazil and Ecuador, about the payment for these shipments and about the drugs being unloaded at the port of Antwerp. 

"At one point, Eridan MG says that his 'friends in Mexico' have complete control over a certain port, and in a conversation about a drug shipment of 1,000 kilos of cocaine, it is mentioned that they will go through the Spanish port of Algeciras 'because they have everything there, the Guardia Civil, the police and customs'."

The federal prosecutor is also asking for a 20-month prison sentence for Bilal I's wife, Chaimae EB, who allegedly knew about his criminal activities and occasionally helped him. 


People being screened before entering the courtroom for an introductory session of the Encrochat/Sky ECC drug trial in Brussels, 30 June 2023 © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

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