The Criminal Assets Bureau has frozen more than $500,000 (€406,000) in two bank accounts linked to an international tech company that allegedly created encrypted smartphones used by some of the world’s top crime bosses.
In its operation targeting Phantom Secure Technology, CAB carried out three searches of professional offices in Dublin on Tuesday.
This followed the freezing last Thursday of two bank accounts linked to the company, which contained over $500,000.
CAB served orders on a number of financial institutions aimed at revealing the source and scale of transactions going through these accounts since the company set up in Ireland in 2011.
Sources said it was “too early” to estimate how much money was moved through the accounts, frozen under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010.
The boss of the Canada-based Phantom Secure was indicted in the US last week.
FBI documentation claims that based on reports from police in Canada, Australia, and the US that bank accounts and corporate ownership filings in Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong show that Phantom Secure generated “tens of millions of dollars in revenue by facilitating the crimes of transnational criminal organisations and protecting these organisations from detection by law enforcement”.
As part of a FBI investigation, CAB officers raided the offices of Phantom Secure Technology at an address near Dublin’s Ormond Quay. This in turn led to two other searches.
The company is a subsidiary of a Canadian company, Phantom Secure, run by Vincent Ramos, who was arrested in the US on March 7 and charged with racketeering. Mr Ramos was listed as a director of the Irish subsidiary. Four of his associates abroad are also being sought.
Phantom Secure provided modified Blackberry devices to clients which allegedly included international drug traffickers and other organised crime elements.
International gangs that were clients of the company include the notorious Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.
Sources here said they had no reason to suspect Irish organised crime groups were clients of the company.
The raid on Dublin followed raids in the company’s offices across the US, in Canada, and Australia. The operation was led by the FBI after a long investigation.
Clients were provided with smartphones which had all the typical functionality of calling, texting, internet, and GPS removed. Instead an encrypted email system was installed which ensured complete privacy and insulation from any law enforcement investigations.
The system also allegedly was set up to ensure that if clients were arrested, all the data accumulated on the encrypted emails would be destroyed by Phantom Secure.
FBI estimate the company charged between $2,000-$3,000 per six-month subscription. Customers were only taken on if an existing client could vouch for them.
In Australia, use of the devices are being linked to at least two gangland-style murders in recent years.
Phantom Secure Technology originally operated out of an address in Dublin 7. For the last two years, it has been located in rented offices near Ormond Quay. A few years ago it advertised jobs for its Dublin operation, including for a software engineer.
According to security sources, there were no company personnel present when the office was raided and no arrests were made.
It is understood that no staff or employees attended at the office for some weeks. It is not alleged that anyone linked to the company here knew anything about these activities.
The international operation has effectively been shut down since the FBI and other law enforcement raids earlier this month.
Speaking after Ramos’s arrest, FBI agent Nicholas Cheviron told Australian TV channel ABC: “We learned that these phones have been used to coordinate drug trafficking, murders, assaults and money laundering”.
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