CAPE TOWN - Australian officials have arrested 224 people linked to the mafia and other organised crime groups in a joint sting operation with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which began in 2018.
According to Al Jazeera, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference on Tuesday that authorities had infiltrated an encrypted messaging app called ANoM, which opened up close to 25 million messages about drug imports and murder plots in Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East.
“Australia has struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world,” Morrison said.
“This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history.”
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw told the same media briefing that “we have been in the back pockets of organised crime”.
"All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered,“ Kershaw was quoted as saying.
The BBC reported that the operation, dubbed “Operation Trojan Shield” has led to arrests in 18 countries, including New Zealand which detained 35 people.
The infiltration of the chat app began when undercover police officers gave devices with the app pre-installed to fugitive Australian drug trafficker Hakan Ayik, who unwittingly distributed them to his criminal associates, thinking it was a secure means to communicate.
“You had to know a criminal to get hold of one of these customised phones,” Australian police said, according to the BBC.
“The phones couldn't ring or email… You could only communicate with someone on the same platform.”
New Zealand, which seized methamphetamines, firearms and millions of dollars in cash and assets during the operation, called it the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action taken against crime to date.