A drug dealer in the English city of Liverpool posted a photo of his hand holding a small block of creamy Stilton on an encrypted messaging service. That gave police the evidence they needed to arrest him, as European authorities had cracked the online platform.
Carl Stewart, 39, was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison at Liverpool Crown Court last week after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin, MDMA and ketamine and transferring criminal property.
Stewart was arrested after he posted the photo of himself holding the cheese block from British retailer Marks & Spencer on the encrypted messaging service EncroChat, via his handle "Toffeeforce." Unbeknownst to him, the service had been cracked by police in Europe. From the photo, police were able to analyze his palm and fingerprints.
Merseyside Police Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said Stewart had been "caught out by his love of Stilton cheese."
Stewart isn't alone in having his criminal activities brought to a premature end by his activities on EncroChat. Merseyside Police say approximately 60,000 users have now been identified worldwide, with about 10,000 of them in the U.K. alone. All are said to be involved in coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity
BBC News reported major crime figures were among over 800 Europe-wide arrests after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded. More than two tons of drugs, several dozen guns and £54m in suspect cash have been seized, according to the National Crime Agency.
The investigation was initiated and led by French and Dutch police, and also involved Europol — the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation, BBC News reported.
Wil van Gemert, deputy executive director of Europol, said that the hacking of the network had allowed the "disruption of criminal activities including violent attacks, corruption, attempted murders and large-scale drug transports."
Merseyside Police has arrested more than 60 people as part of Operation Venetic, and three more criminals were sentenced to long-term prison terms on Wednesday. Three more are due for sentencing Thursday.
Shaun Harrison, 33, was one of those, sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. Harrison was caught out after he revealed personal details of himself on EncroChat, on which he went by the handle "Scantbee and Sandferret."
"Merseyside Police, along with law enforcement agencies across the world, will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of those people who think they are above the law, and we will continue to target anyone involved in serious organized crime to keep this positive momentum going," Wilkinson said.