Text messages between crime lords who unwittingly used a police-operated encrypted app have laid bare the startling details of Australia’s largest ever crime syndicate sting.
Authorities sensationally carried out the bust on Tuesday morning, announcing 224 Australian organised crime figures had been arrested as a result of an elaborate sting using technology designed by the FBI.
Some of Australia’s most prolific criminal networks began using ‘AN0M’ branded phones and encrypted messaging almost three years ago, not realising the Federal Police were using the platform to read their messages.
The app gained currency in the underworld after being promoted by criminal figures including Australia’s most wanted man, suspected drug lord Hakan Ayik, after first being distributed by police informants.
AN0M messages between alleged criminals shows to Australians discussing a cocaine smuggling operation on January 4, 2020.
‘Think he got it in,’ one told the other, before the second responded: ‘You’re dreaming. You reckon. What he offer it to you for’.
AN0M messages, released by the US Department of Justice, show crime figures discussing a shipment of drugs which were to allegedly be thrown over a boat and then picked up
Authorities sensationally carried out Australia’s biggest ever organised crime bust on Tuesday
A tactical police officer guards a handcuffed arrested man during a raid. He was one of 224 people arrested as part of Operation Ironside
The first person then sent a photo of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine with batman stickers on the packaging.
Two months later, on March 23 last year, an Australian user and an unknown person exchanged messages about the price of cocaine.
‘Ok sweet, I got a small job that popped up for the building block. There is 2kg put inside the French diplomatic sealed envelopes out of Bogota [Colombia],’ the third Australian wrote.
The message continued, saying the Colombian distributors would take 50 per cent of the profit while four others would split the remaining half.
The same Australian then informed the unknown person that the drug drop could happen weekly, before sending three photos of cocaine and French diplomatic pouches.
Further messages, released by the US Department of Justice, show crime figures discussing a shipment of drugs which were to allegedly be thrown over a boat and then picked up.
‘I have a cargo ship with captain on side too they want to throw over [the] load as they leave,’ the AN0M message read.
‘So once tug boats release the pilot boat guides him out to sea. Once pilot boat leaves we [message] saying throw then they’ll throw right away. Can you do this? If so, what is your fee?’
The associate responded, saying: ‘Yes they can definitely catch it. They charge 20% door fee’.
‘How many kg can they do per time? What are the cost of goods? When can we start?’
The app – which required installation on mobile phones stripped of other capabilities – became increasingly popular among organised crime figures as it was spruiked by their colleagues, according to AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw.
Police raid a property in Melbourne’s Sydenham over a $1billion drug importation plot
Hakan Ayik (pictured) was tricked into distributing messages to criminal associates. Australian Federal Police have called for the suspected drug lord to hand himself in
The raid allegedly uncovered a loaded firearm and $30,000 cash hidden inside a bathroom wall
Commissioner Kershaw said organised crime figures openly and unashamedly discussed their activities on the ANoM platform, unaware police were monitoring their discussions.
The surveillance of the ‘AN0M’ communication platform has resulted in the arrest of more than 220 Australian organised crime figures since 2018.
Offenders are linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime figures.
The communications found on the platform revealed 21 murder plots, gun distribution activity and mass drug trafficking, Australian Federal Police say.
The AFP also said on Tuesday it had seized 3.7 tonnes of drugs, more than 100 weapons and almost $45 million in cash as part of the operation since 2018.
‘We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale … criminal gangs are targeting Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs,’ Commissioner Kershaw said.
‘Australian law enforcement has been arresting and charging alleged offenders and we have prevented tonnes of drugs from coming onshore.
‘We’ve arrested the alleged kingmakers behind these crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs, frustrated organised crime by seizing ill-gotten wealth.
‘We have been in the back pockets of organised crime.’
Details of the communications come after new footage from the most audacious law enforcement operation in Australian history was revealed, showing heavily-armed police kicking in doors, cutting through barriers and scaling high-rise apartments.
Australian police have warned Ayik – dubbed the ‘Facebook gangster’ for the flashy lifestyle he shows off on social media – he is a marked man after unwittingly peddling the ‘trojan horse’ app to his underworld associates.
The AFP have urged Ayik, who they allege still orchestrates huge shipments of meth and cocaine into Australia from his base in Turkey, to hand himself in to authorities.
A huge overnight bust in Australia saw 4,000 officers storm the underworld after gangsters were monitored for 18 months using the AN0M app, which has also been deployed by police in the US and Britain.
Through the covert operation, detectives allegedly foiled 21 murder plots – saving the lives of a family of five – and shut down gun distribution and mass drug trafficking rings, with Mafia bosses, bikies and reality TV stars among those arrested.
In a Melbourne court on Tuesday it was revealed how the operation stopped over $1billion of ice and cocaine being smuggled into the country.
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth
Australia’s most wanted Hakan Ayik (centre) was influential in spreading the AN0M app through his criminal networks, it has been claimed
Among those swept up as part of the clandestine operation was father Mark Joannou, who applied for bail in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday after being charged with his alleged role as an ‘investor’ in the drug ring.
A raid of his Sydenham home in Melbourne’s west allegedly uncovered a loaded firearm and $30,000 cash hidden in his walls bathroom wall.
About $400,000 was found in the rest of the property, police allege.
The court heard the 41-year-old used the AN0M app to conspire with the alleged leader of the drug ring to bring in about 1.6 tonnes of ice and cocaine worth an estimated $1billion between April and June this year, the Herald Sun reported.
Investigators who were monitoring the app allege Joannou posted on the network as the ‘wolf’ and openly discussed the importation of 400kg of ice from India.
Police allege he would have pocketed $16,000 profit per kilo. The court also heard how the duo allegedly bragged about going undetected.
‘Bro, as an example, yeah, we landed twice this past six months,’ Mr Zayneh allegedly wrote on the app.
‘They knew nothing. And we will f**king land three more times, bro. Watch.’
Mr Joannou allegedly replied: ‘Yeah, I know bro. Just stay safe.’
In another alleged deal Mr Zayneh asked Mr Joannou about investing in a drug Los Angeles venture, calling it ‘good opportunity’.
‘We are working with the cartel,’ the message said.
Four other men – Joe Scordo, Sebastian Bezborodoff, Omar Dib, Robin Reffo – were also been charged for their role in the alleged crime syndicate.
All six caught up in the raid now face charges of conspiring to import a large commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld. Pictured: one man being arrested by AFP officers
Pictured: Officers as part of operation Ironside are seen lining up on the street before moving in on a target
With the alleged ‘Aussie cartel’ now crippled thanks to the cunning international scheme, police say they want suspected drug kingpin Hakan Ayik, now hiding in Turkey, to turn himself in and protect his family.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the man nicknamed the ‘Facebook Gangster’ is now facing the threat of reprisals after he unwittingly encouraged other criminals to use the app.
‘Given the threat he faces, he’s best off handing himself into us as soon as he can,’ he says.
‘He was one of the coordinators of this particular device, so he’s essentially set up his own colleagues.’
Despite the incredible success of the secret sting, Daily Mail Australia can reveal the operation was in jeopardy of being compromised earlier this year – and authorities may have wound it up earlier as a result.
In late March, an anonymous blogger known only as ‘canyouguess67’ posted an article warning users to keep off ANOM for their ‘own safety’.
‘STAY AWAY FROM ANOM IF YOU VALUE YOUR PRIVACY AND SAFETY,’ the blogger wrote in an article, which has since been pulled down.
‘THEY ARE COMPROMISED, LIARS AND YOUR DATA IS RUNNING VIA USA.’
In what now seems to be a telling clue, the blogger expressed serious concerns about the fact that the AN-M device he had tested ‘was actually in constant contact with Google services’ in both New South Wales, Australia and California.
‘I was quite concerned to see the amount of IP addresses relating to many corporations within the Five Eyes Governments (Australia, USA, Canada, UK, NZ who share information with one another),’ he wrote.
Following a technical analysis, the blogger – correctly – recommended people not use ANoM technology, warning authorities could ‘completely infiltrate every users’ devices (sic) as well as their operations, and worse of all authorities would have the ability to decrypt and intercept messages’.
In an incredible twist, the unnamed tech blogger warned that they had contacted law enforcement agencies with their concerns.
The blog, named ‘ANOMEXPOSED’, has since been taken down but it was still publicly available via Google on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the tech expert’s concerns reached the ears of the Federal Police or played a role in the project being sensationally unveiled today.
An anonymous tech geek posted a blog online in March, titled ‘AN0M ENCRYPTED SCAM EXPOSED’
Millions of dollars in assets have been seized including this sparking collection of expensive watches
A fire engine red Ducati which is also now in the possession of the Australian Federal Police
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against organised crime.
‘The operation puts Australia at the forefront of the fight against criminals who peddle in human misery and ultimately, it will keep our communities and Australians safe,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘Illicit drug use ruins lives and fuels organised crime.’
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said federal agents had been in the ‘back pockets’ of criminals through the encryption app.
The idea, Mr Kershaw said, came over a ‘couple of beers’ between officers and FBI agents years back.
‘The FBI had the lead on this. We provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages,’ he said.
‘Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against organised crime
Pictured: Officers from operation Ironside prepare to bust down a down as part of a raid
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth.
Kong, who was also allegedly in possession of $2,030 cash and a revolver, was granted bail and will appear in court on June 28.
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month.
Former Bandito bikie Benjamin Joseph Thornton, 31, was arrested after police seized two mobile phones and a small quantity of cocaine. He was denied bail and will reappear in court next week.
What is ANoM?
On its glitzy website, the ‘AN0M’ phone looks like any new tech innovation with sleek black lines, ‘invite only’ exclusivity and a pledge to ‘enforce your right to privacy’.
But its best feature – and for most of its users, the worst – wasn’t promoted in its marketing material.
The phone, which supposedly allowed encrypted communications safe from the eyes of the law, was actually a cunning trap laid for a who’s who of organised crime.
The Australian Federal Police on Tuesday revealed a breathtaking three-year tech ploy which led to 4,000 police executing 525 search warrants.
‘Enforce your right to privacy’: This is how the ANoM website advertised its product – with users not realising that law enforcement officials could read each and every message
Senior bikies and mafia figures were tricked into buying hi-tech phones that would supposedly let them messages one another, free of police snooping.
But the AN0M phones were actually designed by the FBI and allowed Australian police to read the texts of organised crime figures.
Police watched in real time as alleged crooks spilled their secrets to one another on their own app.
Some 21 execution plots were foiled and drug and gun smuggling networks dismantled.
Some 224 people have been arrested, $44,934,457 in cash seized, as well as 104 weapons, 3.7 tonnes of drugs and multi-million dollar assets.
Alleged crooks even paid six-monthly subscription fees to the police – the money only further reinforcing law enforcement methods.
How did it all work?
Users could buy phone handsets costing between $1,500 and $2,500 from what has been described as underground distributors.
The phones were stripped down – they couldn’t even make calls, access the internet or send emails.
What did do was send encrypted messages, photos and videos, using a foreign SIM card to apparently avoid Australian data snooping laws.
Crooks could buy a six month subscription to use the app – the funds raised unknowingly redirected to the police.
Mafia figures and bikies purchased ANoM-branded phones with encrypted messaging technology already downloaded. When criminals used the phones, the messages were intercepted by Australian Federal Police law enforcement agencies
The app was invitation-only as of Tuesday morning – before the page was sensationally taken down and replaced with a warning by the FBI
Anom’s Twitter account claimed the company was based in the famously neutral nation of Switzerland
This is how the Anom.io website looked as of late Tuesday morning
The app was accessed by entering a PIN number into the phone’s calculator, the stuff of spy dramas.
ANoM’s website, which was only deleted about 10am on Tuesday, made the technology sound bulletproof.
The company was apparently based in famously neutral Switzerland and boasted of ‘military grade encrypt and sanitise’.
For its encryption, it claimed to use ‘OMEMO Double Ratchet Algorithm … independently audited by Dutch security research group Radically Open Security’.
That may have been an in-joke – as all the supposedly self-destructing messages sent on the app was radically open to the Australian Federal Police to read.
Police have been coy about just how Australian mafia and bikie figures first came across the devices.
That is likely to remain a secret, as it involves police informants.
But what is clear is that the ‘business’ began to grow of its own accord beginning in about October 2018.
Criminal ‘influencers’, including drug kingpin Hakan Ayik, eventually became so enthralled by the technology they distributed the devices around the world.
The Federal Police and even Prime Minister Scott Morrison have crowed about the success of the scheme, rolled out in Australia due to its world-first data snooping laws.
‘This is as a warning to organised crime in Australia, and abroad – the AFP and Australia’s law enforcement agencies have a laser-like focus in bringing them to justice,’ Mr Morrison said.
But it is clear that AN0M is no secret anymore – with its details splashed across some of the nation’s biggest newspapers today and hundreds of cases before the courts, many no doubt unaware that someone was sounding the alarm about the app months ago.