Over 500 new cases opened against nearly 3,000 suspects since federal police hacked encrypted messaging service

Two years after Belgian federal police managed to hack into the SKY ECC messaging service, more than 500 cases have been opened against nearly 3,000 suspects, Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne and Interior minister Annelies Verlinden reported on Thursday.

In early 2021, the federal judicial police managed to crack the encryption software SKY ECC, an encrypted chat service that ran only on specially configurated smartphones. This gave investigators access to approximately a billion encrypted messages, allowing them to map out multiple extensive drug networks. The breakthrough prompted more than 200 searches and 48 arrests on 9 March 2021.

Two years later, information is still being extracted from the messages, leading to new investigations. Meanwhile, precisely 526 cases were opened against 2,961 suspects. The district of Antwerp, known for the many smuggling operations running through its port, saw 351 new investigations against 1,789 suspects. Almost 110 million euros in criminal money were seized.

In 344 individual cases, final judgments have also already been handed down. In addition, 144 verdicts remain to be finalised due to appeals.

"Police are tying up criminal networks faster than ever before. We knew that this was coming, and we have therefore provided the necessary reinforcements."

"The breakthrough in the SKY ECC case on 9 March 2021 delivered a sledgehammer blow to a hitherto unprecedented network of drug criminals. The impressive results are the result of targeted and efficient police work, which continues to disrupt criminal networks today," responded Belgium's Interior minister Annelies Verlinden.

"Police and justice services are tying up criminal networks faster than ever before," echoes Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne. "We knew from the beginning that this was coming, and we have therefore provided the necessary reinforcements to the police, the prosecutor's office and the courts."

However, both ministers acknowledge that it remains challenging to extradite gang leaders hiding abroad. Extradition treaties, including those with the United Arab Emirates, have already been concluded for this purpose.



Interior minister Annelies Verlinden (l.) and Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (r.) © BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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