Sunday, June 23, 2024

Belgium begins large-scale drug trial after secret app bust

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Belgium began one of the biggest drug trafficking trials in history on Monday, putting more than 120 defendants on trial, largely thanks to investigators who cracked an encrypted messaging app.

Suspects from Belgium, Albania, Colombia and North Africa accused of involvement in a large-scale criminal operation sought justice during a hearing in a high-security courtroom at the former headquarters of the military alliance NATO in Brussels. receive judgment.

“Sir, I played and lost,” Eliden Muñoz Guerrero, 50, told the judge. “I take responsibility for what I did. I have confirmed all statements I made to police and admit that I led the group.”

Despite his Albanian Spanish name, Muñoz Guerrero was one of the first defendants to take the stand, and among other things, he had a stash of cocaine in a luxury car driven by the gang’s courier to Germany, Italy and Sweden. admitted that he had created it.

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Other defendants who testified first sought to minimize their roles or deny the charges altogether.

“I rented two cabins on a cannabis farm, but I have never touched cocaine in my life,” Belgian Ridouan Ali, 44, said, adding that he was acting on the orders of an unidentified Dutchman. I protested.

Abdelwahab Guerni, an Algerian, and his Belgian co-accused, Bilal Idrissi, were each asked to explain their two trips to Latin America, Brazil and Colombia.

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“It was tourism, pure and simple. Just visiting the country,” Idrissi said.

The alleged multinational drug smuggling enterprise, which operated from 2017 until the end of 2022, involved numerous criminal organizations and was dismantled following raids by Belgian, German and Italian police.

Prosecutors say the cocaine and marijuana were shipped in containers from South America and Morocco, smuggled through ports in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France, and then sold across Europe, with the gang using encrypted messaging apps. It is said that he was using

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The case is based in part on evidence discovered after Belgian, French and Dutch investigators cracked the secret Sky ECC and EncroChat apps.

Police say that by infiltrating the app, they were able to peer into the planning and execution of unsuspecting drug smuggling operations.

Belgium’s Justice Minister Paul Van Tigchelt said 1,000 convictions had already been secured in cases stemming from evidence from encrypted apps.

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Belgium has a huge port called Antwerp, which is the main gateway for cocaine smuggling into Europe.

“It’s clear that this is a very severe blow to organized crime in our country,” Van Tigchelt said ahead of the trial.

The suspects in this huge trial face numerous charges, including drug offenses, arms trafficking and membership in a criminal organization.

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A total of 124 people are on trial, but some are on the run and will be tried in absentia.

However, most, like Muñoz Guerrero, remain in Belgian custody.

The alleged mastermind of this enterprise was Albanian.

Prosecutors claim there was a “structure and hierarchy” between the various criminal groups involved and that illicit commercial links were evident.

But defense lawyers scoff at the way authorities have organized the huge case into a series of trials.

The suspects are accused, among other things, of co-operating a cocaine processing laboratory that was discovered on Belgian soil.

The trial is expected to last several months, with a verdict not expected until mid-2024.

“They are trying to emulate the Italian mafia’s ‘maximum trial’. This is a PR stunt,” said Guillaume Lys, the defendant’s lawyer in Brussels, adding that dozens of cases could be tried separately. claimed that there was.


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