ORGANISED crime groups operating in North Wales have been infiltrated by the cracking of a top-secret communications system in a major operation police across the UK.

On Thursday, the National Crime Agency said the cryptic communications system used by criminals to trade drugs and guns has been "successfully penetrated".

Police have so far made over 700 arrests in "unprecedented" numbers of raids after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and de-coded.

More than two tonnes of drugs, several dozen guns and £54m in suspect cash have been seized, the National Crime Agency said.

The operation came about when law enforcement partners in France and Holland took down a bespoke encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals to carry out their business.

With more than 60,000 users overseas and 10,000 in the UK, EncroChat is a secure mobile phone instant messaging service which is used by criminals to coordinate and plan the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plots to kill rival criminals.

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Two months ago, following years of international intelligence sharing, an international law enforcement team made up of officers in France and Holland cracked the company’s encryption.

Since then – under codename Op Venetic - officers from law enforcement agencies across the UK have been assessing and interpreting this intelligence, keeping a close eye on the criminals involved.

And North Wales Police played a vital role in the operation.

North Wales Police’s head of crime services, Detective Chief Superintendent Wayne Jones, said: “Officers and staff from North Wales Police played a key role in supporting Operation Venetic, working with colleagues in the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and the National Crime Agency.

“For a number of weeks we have been receiving intelligence that has enabled us to carry out targeted operations into Organised Crime Groups operating in North Wales.

“We have already seized high purity Class A drugs and made a number of arrests.

“The taking down of the encrypted network only marks the beginning of further enforcement action we will be taking to arrest those who commit serious crime in North Wales.

“We have secured further evidence into criminal activity, and this will be used in further operations with more arrests and seizure of criminal assets to follow.”

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