Police arrested 800 people in a huge global sting involving encrypted phones used by criminals that were secretly planted by law enforcement agencies, the EU police agency Europol said Tuesday.
"This information led over the last week to hundreds of law enforcement operations on a global scale from New Zealand to Australia to Europe and the USA, with impressive results," Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Deputy Director Operations at Europol, told a press conference. "More than 800 arrests, more than 700 locations searched, more than 8 tonnes of cocaine."
More than 200 organized crime members have been charged in Australia as part of a major sting operation, authorities said on Tuesday.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the United States' FederalBureau of Investigation (FBI) secretly monitored communications between underworld figures with an encrypted app designed by police called AN0M as part of a long-term, international, covert investigation.
"Operation Ironside has led to the arrest of 224 offenders on 526charges in every mainland Australian state," AFP said in a statement.
The operation, which had been running for three years, also led to the seizure of some 3.7 tonnes of drugs, over 100 weapons, almost 45million Australian dollars (34.9 million US dollars) in cash, and"assets expected to run into the millions of dollars," the AFP said.
The federal police said it would "allege offenders linked to Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, an Asian crime syndicate, and Albanian organized crime are among those charged" under operation Ironside, the Australian component of the investigation.
More arrests were expected, it added.
The AFP said that AN0M was pre-installed on mobile phones bought on the black market. The phones, which could not make calls or send emails, could only send messages to another device that had the organized crime app.
The devices and app grew in popularity among criminals as high-profile figures used them and vouched for the app's integrity, police said.
"These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders," said AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw.
"Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it - not knowing we were watching the entire time."