MORE than £7 million in cash and 200kg class A drugs have been seized by the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit as part of a national operation to smash organised crime conspiracies.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and WMROCU has carried out months of work across the West Midlands after an international law enforcement team cracked the encryption of communication platforms used by organised criminals.

Serious crime groups used the system, called EncroChat, to communicate freely believing the technology made them secure. The criminal group behind EncroChat operated from outside the UK.

For four years, agencies have worked to target EncroChat, with police and the NCA monitoring their every move in the UK.

In what has been described as the UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation, WMROCU has arrested 43 people and charged 11 over the last few months.

The WMROCU has seized £7,202,535 in criminal cash, 233.25kg of cocaine, one firearm and one air weapon.

Head of WMROCU, Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Baker, said: “Thanks to the intelligence we received, we were able to dovetail with international activity and bring operations to a conclusion much quicker.

“We have seized considerable amounts of cash, drugs, firearms and other commodities that we know were destined for local, national and international distribution.

“We specifically focussed on those thought to be involved in the highest levels of organised crime across our region.

“This work has undoubtedly saved lives by taking guns and drugs off the streets and we know we have made a huge contribution to making our streets much safer from organised crime gangs.

"Although the tactic has now been made public this does not mean the operation has stopped. The wealth of intelligence we have received means that investigations will be continuing into organised crime groups regionally and there will be many more warrants, arrests and prosecutions over the coming months as a result of this."

DCS Baker continued: “Operation Venetic began at the end of March just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK, and despite the virus, officers and staff in WMROCU worked relentlessly throughout − working on their days off, working very long days all at a time when most people stayed at home.

“The dedication by the teams has resulted in us being able to identify key people involved in serious organised crime across the whole West Midlands region over the last few months."

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland, said: “The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country.

“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.

“The NCA is proud to have led the UK part of this operation, working in partnership with policing and other agencies. The results have been outstanding but this is just the start.

“A dedicated team of over 500 NCA officers has been working on Operation Venetic night and day, and thousands more across policing. And it’s all been made possible because of superb work with our international partners.

“Together we’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them.

“The NCA plays a key role in international efforts to combat encrypted comms. I’d say to any criminal who uses an encrypted phone, you should be very, very worried.”