Man jailed for using encrypted phone to import Class A drugs in toys
A man has been jailed after specialist officers found he was using an encrypted mobile phone to import Class A drugs into the UK hidden in shipments of children’s toys.
Chris Michaelides, 52 (17.12.68) of Millwell Crescent, Chigwell, Essex, was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday, 29 October to 20 years' imprisonment.
He previously pleaded guilty at the same court to:
Conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of controlled drugs (cocaine)
Conspiracy to supply a controlled drug (cocaine)
Possession of a firearm
Possession of ammunition
Possession of a fraudulently obtained passport
Possessing a prohibited weapon (CS gas); and
Production of a controlled drug (cannabis)
European partners and the National Crime Agency accessed and dismantled an encrypted communication system called EncroChat in 2020 as part of Operation Venetic.
On receiving data relating to those using the devices in London, the Met launched an operation named Eternal to target those using them for criminality.
Detectives from Specialist Crime analysed the data from the devices, which led to officers identifying Michaelides as being involved in the importation of cocaine.
Operation Elwenjewe was set-up and officers were tasked with attributing the EncroChat handle ‘primegator.’ After carrying out extensive enquiries, detectives carried out a warrant at Michaelides' address on 30 June 2020 and arrested him nearby.
Officers searched his property and found a .25 Steyr handgun in a wardrobe in his bedroom, stored with seven rounds of ammunition. They also found a UK passport with his photograph, but issued under an assumed identity.
Throughout the house, officers found quantities of cannabis and a number of cannabis plants were found growing in his garden. A CS gas canister, which is a prohibited firearm, was found in another bedroom.
Michaelides’ EncroChat messages showed that he was in contact with others based in the UK, Holland and the Czech Republic who were involved in the importation of Class A drugs into the UK. Conversations indicated this had been an ongoing criminal enterprise for approximately six years.
Messages received indicated that Michaelides discussed with criminal associates an arranged importation that had been intercepted at the Port of Dover on 20 April 2020.
Michaelides arranged with others for a lorry carrying an innocent cargo of children’s bricks to also be loaded with 50kg of high purity cocaine for import into the UK and onward distribution. The messages demonstrated that he played a leading role in facilitating this importation.
Michaelides and the others involved in the conspiracy had organised for the lorry to be met at an agreed location, believed to be in Holland.
Photographs were sent on the messaging system showing cash handed to the driver for payment. However, things did not go to plan for the criminals and the lorry was intercepted in Dover on 20 April 2020. Throughout that day, Michaelides and the others discussed their missing lorry and even shared images of the newspaper articles that related to the seizure of 50kg of cocaine.
Undeterred by what had happened, the same criminal network set up a similar importation of cocaine, believed to be 37kg, on 1 June 2020. However, the drugs consignment was intercepted on the continent before it could reach the UK.
Michaelides was arrested shortly afterwards and charged on 1 July 2020. He was convicted as above.
Detective Inspector Lee Byne, from Specialist Crime, said: “Thanks to great partnership working, the evidence we were able to gather against Michaelides was so overwhelming that he had no choice but to plead guilty to the charges laid against him.
“Michaelides played an instrumental part in this criminal network, which had been importing huge quantities of Class A drugs – hidden in innocent shipments, including children’s toys – for many years. The drugs he helped to import to the UK over those years no doubt devastated many lives and communities.
“The firearms and weapons we found at Michaelides house once again demonstrates the undeniable link between drugs and violence. This is why disrupting all routes of drug supply continues to be central to our work to tackle violence on London’s streets.”