A commercial-scale drugs kingpin used a secret phone network to flood the streets of Staffordshire with heroin.
Yusuf Ali, 30, made regular trips to the county and other parts of England to Bristol to meet up with dealers who would order kilos of heroin to be delivered to his house by couriers.
He confessed to selling six kilos of heroin in total between March and June last year, and the majority of the operation was run via EncroChat with Ali using the handle ShakyNinja.
The network was one of the world’s largest encrypted communication services and was frequently being used by criminals who believed they were safe from being detected by police, , WalesOnline reports.
But following a breakthrough by the French authorities in 2020, police were able to crack the wall of security that surrounded the system.
A sentencing hearing at Newport Crown Court heard Ali was snared as part of Operation Venetic run by the National Crime Agency.
Describing Ali’s operation prosecutor Andrew Jones said: “The defendant used [EncroChat] to communicate with other suppliers on a commercial scale and a network of distributors. It’s quite clear he was sourcing and distributing consignments of heroin and selling them to other members of downstream groups…
“He was organised in the buying and selling on a commercial scale and had established links and influence on others in the supply chain and expected a high financial gain.”
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The court heard Ali was in frequent contact with a Liverpool-based dealer with the EncroChat handle FancyBandy and spoke about buying heroin for around £20,000 per kilo.
On a number of occasions, a courier delivered “samples” to the defendant’s address in Adeline Street, Newport. He was also sent photos which depicted blocks of heroin.
Similar conversations were had with other suppliers and Ali travelled to Stafford, Bristol, Bolton and St Helens on separate occasions in order to purchase drugs from FancyBandy and others.
Having either received heroin from deliveries or picking them up himself, Ali was able to sell the drugs downstream almost immediately and messages revealed he wouldn’t sell heroin below kilo weights.
The defendant was arrested in June last year and made no comment in a police interview but he later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin on the basis he had supplied up to six kilos of the drug. Mr Jones also said Ali had four previous drug-related convictions, the latest of which dated back to 2014.
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Defence barrister Jonathan Rees QC said his client’s dealing was “relatively small” compared to other defendants involved with Operation Venetic and suggested his client now felt “significant remorse” having missed the birth of his daughter after being remanded in custody.
Sentencing, Judge Jeremy Jenkins said: “You had substantial links with others in the chain of supply and I am satisfied you were involved in directing, organising, and selling large quantities of Class A drugs…
“I am satisfied you knew exactly what you were doing, communicating with a large number of customers and potential customers, and you knew from past experience the consequence that would inevitably follow upon your detection. It was a large and busy enterprise and you no doubt profited from it at great levels.”
Ali was jailed for 12 years.
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