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US$4 million seized in Singapore from Canadian group that sold encrypted devices to drug cartels

US$4 million seized in Singapore from Canadian group that sold encrypted devices to drug cartels

File photo of a person typing on a keyboard. (Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

SINGAPORE: About US$4 million of illicit funds linked to a Canadian group that sold encrypted devices to drug traffickers in multiple countries have been seized in Singapore, said the United States Department of Justice on Monday (Dec 14).

The funds were seized from four bank accounts by the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force and US authorities. Those funds, totalling US$3,971,468.40, have now been repatriated to the US, said the justice department in a media release.

The money was generated by Canada-based Phantom Secure, an encrypted telecommunications network used by transnational organised criminal syndicates.

According to court documents, Phantom Secure advertised its products as impervious to decryption, wiretapping or legal third-party records requests. It also guaranteed that evidence within a device could be destroyed if it was ever compromised.

AUSTRALIA, THAILAND, US AMONG COUNTRIES WHERE DRUGS WERE DISTRIBUTED

The firm’s CEO Vincent Ramos and four of his associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2018 on charges that they operated a criminal enterprise that "facilitated the transnational importation and distribution of narcotics through the sale and service of encrypted telecommunications devices and services", said the justice department. 

In October 2018, Ramos pleaded guilty that he and his co-conspirators facilitated the distribution of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to locations around the world. This included countries such as Australia, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, the US as well as the European region. 

They also admitted supplying drug traffickers with Phantom Secure encrypted communications devices designed to thwart law enforcement, said the justice department. 

To keep the communications out of the reach of authorities, they maintained Phantom Secure servers in Panama and Hong Kong. They also used virtual proxy servers to disguise the physical location of its servers, and remotely deleted or “wiped” devices seized by law enforcement, said the justice department. 

"Ramos’ customers used his products to devastating and sometimes deadly effect, and Ramos used this to market his encryption services to criminals across the world," said the department in the release. 

The department cited news reports of a gangland murder investigation that was hindered because the suspects used Phantom Secure's devices to coordinate the killing. 

According to court documents, Ramos wrote as a response to the killing then that “this is the best verification on what we have been saying all along – proven and effective for now over nine years. It is the highest level of authority confirming our effectiveness. It can’t get better than that.” 

As part of his guilty plea, Ramos agreed to an US$80 million forfeiture money judgment as well as the forfeiture of tens of millions of dollars in identified assets. This ranged from bank accounts worldwide to houses, a Lamborghini, cryptocurrency accounts and gold coins. 

The money repatriated from Singapore was among the assets identified by investigators to be forfeited, said the justice department. 

Ramos was later sentenced to 108 months in prison.

"The Department of Justice specifically commends the efforts of our Singapore counterparts in identifying, freezing, and repatriating proceeds of this criminal enterprise," it said in the release. 

"Investigators with the Commercial Affairs Department and representatives of the Attorney General’s Chamber worked relentlessly to ensure that these proceeds would not be used to promote further illegal activity," said the department. 

US Attorney Robert Brewer said that "tremendous determination ... dismantled this criminal network". 

“As a result of this groundbreaking prosecution, the network has been shut down, its founder has been brought to justice, and its money is being identified and forfeited to help victims and witnesses of crime," he added. 

Source: CNA/ad

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