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Drug dealers jailed after challenging legality of EncroChat evidence

A former Liverpool footballer who won the FA Youth Cup has been sentenced to 13 years in prison after police dismantled a drug trafficking operation that utilized EncroChat devices.

Following months of legal battles over the admissibility of evidence obtained from the French police’s hacking of the EncroChat network, three men were sentenced to a total of 51 years in jail after suddenly pleading guilty. Among them were former Liverpool footballer Jamie Cassidy, 46, whose career was cut short by injury, his elder brother Jonathan, 50, and Nasar Ahmed, 51.

Jonathan Cassidy and Ahmed were each sentenced to 21 years at Liverpool Crown Court for their involvement in conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine, while Jamie Cassidy received a 13-year sentence.

Wayne Johns, who led the National Crime Agency’s EncroChat operation, remarked, “The Cassidy brothers and Ahmed pleaded guilty in this case after years of vigorously contesting the legality of the case against them.”

“The NCA and Crown Prosecution Service collaborated with Greater Manchester Police to vigorously defend against the challenge, resulting in the trio being brought to justice,” he added.

In the spring of 2020, French authorities decrypted the EncroChat network and obtained hundreds of thousands of messages, many of which were from organized criminals in the UK.

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In the summer of 2020, the NCA initiated Operation Venetic and shared the obtained data with law enforcement agencies nationwide to connect EncroChat aliases with individuals. Subsequently, Greater Manchester Police launched Operation Embossed after identifying four EncroChat aliases linked to significant drug trafficking in the northwest of England in 2020.

According to reports, Jonathan Cassidy used the alias Whiskywasp, his brother went by Nucleardog, Ahmed was associated with Dottedjaw, and a fourth individual, Joshua Avis, who remains at large, was referred to as Octojungle.

An undated image of an EncroChat phone with the message which was sent out on June 13, 2020 telling all users the network had been compromised. (Europol)
An undated image of an EncroChat phone with the message which was sent out on June 13, 2020 telling all users the network had been compromised. (Europol)

Despite pleading not guilty, the Cassidy brothers and Ahmed fought the admission of EncroChat evidence through multiple hearings. The French authorities, citing national security reasons, did not disclose the method of hacking the EncroChat server, while lawyers for the defendants argued it was a live intercept operation, making it inadmissible in British courts.

Although the NCA and Greater Manchester Police denied it was a live intercept, they refused to permit testing of EncroChat devices.

Eventually, Judge Nicholas Dean dismissed a request by Ahmed and the Cassidy brothers for further adjournment to obtain a technical report on the EncroChat hack. Faced with no legal recourse, the trio opted to plead guilty instead of proceeding to trial.

Judge Rejects El Chapo Comparison

During sentencing, Judge Dean acknowledged the sophistication of the operation but rebuked Jonathan Cassidy’s likening of himself to El Chapo as “utterly fanciful” and a “ridiculous exaggeration.”

Prosecutor Richard Wright, KC, revealed that the gang was responsible for importing and distributing 356 kilograms of cocaine, valued at approximately £26 million, and laundering £10 million within just three months.

Jamie Cassidy’s barrister, Paul Greaney, KC, highlighted his client’s promising football career that was derailed by injuries, noting that he was signed by Liverpool Football Club at the age of 9 and had immense talent.

Mr. Greaney recalled a passage from former England defender Jamie Carragher’s autobiography, where Cassidy, a FA Youth Cup winner in 1996, was destined for greatness before his career was cut short.

Campaigners against the National Crime Agency's use of data hacked from EncroChat by French police protest outside the Old Bailey in London on May 27, 2022. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)
Campaigners against the National Crime Agency’s use of data hacked from EncroChat by French police protest outside the Old Bailey in London on May 27, 2022. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)

Post his release from Liverpool and a brief stint with Cambridge, Cassidy succumbed to his brother’s influence and delved into drug trafficking.

In May 2020, amid concerns about EncroChat’s security, Jonathan Cassidy switched to the SkyECC network, which was later dismantled by US and French authorities in 2021. Following EncroChat’s warning of the hack in June 2020, Ahmed attempted to flee to Dubai but was apprehended two days later in Bury, Greater Manchester.

Despite initially making it to Dubai and enquiring about a property, Jonathan Cassidy returned to the UK, under the false belief that his EncroChat messages were untraceable. He was arrested in November 2020.

‘High-Ranking Criminals’

Commenting on the case, Detective Constable Marc Walby from Greater Manchester Police emphasized that those convicted were part of a network of high-ranking criminals operating in the region.

Several individuals facing trial based on EncroChat data maintain that innocent people have been imprisoned using what they consider inadmissible evidence stemming from live intercepts.

A senior lawyer involved in EncroChat cases told The Epoch Times in January that, “regardless of the exposure of live intercept issues, courts will likely find a way around it, albeit through convoluted and intellectually dishonest means.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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