Australia: How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls - PressFrom - Australia
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AustraliaHow a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls

23:30  10 august  2019
23:30  10 august  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© SMH Jason Drollet has been found guilty over the importation.

The Australian Federal Police finally had their answer: “moneymoney1!”.

Investigators had sent their key piece of evidence, an encrypted BlackBerry phone, to Canada, hoping their counterparts could crack it.

And when the password came back from the Mounties, the access code “moneymoney1!” unlocked the secret messages of an accused man in one of Australia’s biggest ever drug busts, and unveiled a cast of characters using aliases such as SoRich, FatHorse and Roc.

The password was symbolic: money ran all through the investigation – from payoffs in bags of cash hidden in a forklift, to the $1.5 billion estimated street value of ice and ecstasy found in a shipping container from Germany.

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Nearly five years after the bust was hailed as a “landmark day” in the fight against organised crime and drugs by then prime minister Tony Abbott, the investigation and prosecution came to a dramatic climax last week with two of four men accused over the importation found guilty in the District Court.

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How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© SMH Mehmet Ozgen, left, has been found guilty over his role in one of Australia's largest ever drugs busts.

In a setback for the Crown, one was acquitted after the jury rejected its star witness who had been offered immunity despite accepting at least $10,000 cash and promises of more from the syndicate.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Supplied Cracking the password to a BlackBerry 9320 Curve such as this became central to the trial of four men in the NSW District Court.

And a jury couldn’t decide on the guilt of the fourth who dramatically gave evidence in his own trial to insist on his innocence that he was merely hired to move boxes for a friend and didn’t know their contents.

Unpacking crew

In the second half of 2014, a man identifying himself as Genadie Sarbu emailed Blacktown moving company Chess Moving, saying he wanted to move household goods from Germany to Australia.

Nobody ever met him, spoke with him or laid eyes on him. His order was completed via email.

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But when his container arrived from Germany in Australia on November 19, 2014, border control inspectors detected suspicious packages, seizing two tonnes of ice and ecstasy in more than 130 boxes before substituting them and allowing the shipment to proceed to catch the recipients.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© SMH Then NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione inspects the drug haul at the centre of the trial.

The container arrived in the yard at Chess about a week later.

The four accused in the trial – Mehmet Ozgen, Jason Drollet and Solomone Vukici who were allegedly part of the “unpacking crew”, and Philip Ian Bishop, an executive of Chess – were captured on CCTV at the site the night the container was accessed.

The three unpacking crew members, along with three others The Sun-Herald can now reveal have previously pleaded guilty over the importation, would become known as the KOI 6.

Close to midnight, the unpacking crew unloaded the boxes and, after Mr Bishop had left, moved them to a Smithfield industrial unit that had been hired by one of them to store perfume.

At 3am, police swooped, arresting the KOI 6, seizing goods, including three BlackBerrys.

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One device, which police alleged belonged to then 23-year-old Mehmet Ozgen of Eastlakes, was of particular interest to investigators. But it was locked.

BlackBerrys are notoriously difficult to access, so the device was sent to Canada as part of “job lot” of 19 devices seized by Australian authorities for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to examine.

The Mounties have mastered accessing the devices made by their countrymen, Research in Motion. And once cracked, the BlackBerry delivered a cache of nearly 400 encrypted messages discussing planning around the importation.

The Crown alleged that Ozgen used multiple aliases or handles while messaging on the text-only BlackBerry, including Meme, Memz, M3mz and NegativeMan.

The communications in the days and hours before the “unpacking crew” accessed the shipping container revealed a conspiracy to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, police alleged.

Ozgen texted with others in the unpacking crew, including ‘SoRich’ (Akuila Bisasa who pleaded guilty in 2017) and ‘Renegade’ (Rene Arancibia who also pleaded guilty).

Messages included discussions about buying boxes from Bunnings, unloading boxes, “cleaning out Vinnies” to buy clothes and household items to put into boxes that would replace boxes containing drugs.

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Others discussed the convoy they were driving in which police would cross-reference with photos from toll booths to allege their links to the phone messages and shipment.

Messages discussed the “f…-up “ when Deo Narayan, a forklift operator from the moving company, didn’t make it accessible as planned despite being paid $10,000.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Kirk Gilmour Akuila Bisasa pleaded guilty in 2017.

When hit by a one-day delay because Mr Narayan didn’t make the container accessible, one complained “F...ing spewing bad we not taking stock home!! I wonder if we can take our pay tonight at least?”

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Kirk Gilmour Rene Arancibia pleaded guilty in 2017.

Counsel for Ozgen unsuccessfully tried to keep the BlackBerry evidence out of the trial, including the “moneymoney1!” password, arguing Australian police did not know how the Canadians obtained it, questioning DNA evidence and police protocols during the search.

However, the jury heard that there was no evidence that the BlackBerry messages had anything to do with another member of the unpacking crew, Solomone Vukici. He did not have a BlackBerry and was not part of the messaging.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Kirk Gilmour Joshua Hamlin pleaded guilty in 2017.

In fact, one message police allege was sent by a leader of the group known only as Roc, was later shared with Ozgen and another member, noting that “no one knows but us”.

'Quiche cook-off'

Money was hard to escape during the nine-week trial: $1.5 billion of ice and ecstasy, $10,000 in cash that the Crown’s star witness Mr Narayan hid in his forklift and the promise of another “40k in a bag”.

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Thousands of dollars was dropped at Vinnies op shops on hundreds of blouses and clothing to put in boxes to replace those boxes removed containing drugs. Six barristers, including two Crown prosecutors, sat through the lengthy trial (a seventh left midway through).

But at the other end of the scale, the accused Mr Vukici stood to earn just $2000 for helping to unpack and move boxes as requested by his lifelong friend Bisasa.

In contrast to his co-accused, Mr Vukici, a former NRL contracted player with the Roosters and Bulldogs, took the witness stand in his own defence in an attempt to convince the jury he was helping an old school and rugby friend Akuila Bisasa who offered him work.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Kirk Gilmour The jury could not agree on a verdict for Solomone Komai Vukici.

Off work because of a back injury and needing money to support his family, he accepted the offer of moving work. He told the jury he knew nothing, heard nothing and saw nothing of the movement of drugs despite hours of moving boxes from a shipping container to a truck in Blacktown, travelling with co-accused to Smithfield, and then unloading the boxes again from the truck.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© SMH Philip Ian Bishop was found not guilty.

In closing, Mr Vukici’s counsel appealed to the jury that his client was a “patsy” for his lifelong friend Bisasa.

The Crown attacked Mr Vukici's evidence, making light of a “quiche cook-off” with another rugby league friend Drollet in the days leading up to the unpacking crew accessing the shipping container.

Didn’t he think it odd he was moving boxes in the middle of the night? No. Didn’t he hear talk about drugs? No. Didn’t he see anything when the boxes were unpacked? No.

How a BlackBerry password cracked one of Australia's biggest drug hauls© Wolter Peeters Deo Narayan outside the Downing Centre, where he gave evidence in the drug importation trial.

You’re joking, Crown prosecutor David Staehli SC prodded Mr Vukici. No. But the Crown failed to convince the jury Mr Vukici knew what was in the boxes and was part of the conspiracy.

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In further embarrassment for the Crown, Ozgen was charged and tried over supplying ecstasy but the charge was discontinued after the jury heard closing submissions and directions from the judge because of an administrative error preparing the indictment.

Before the error was discovered, Ozgen’s father gave evidence that drugs found in a jacket in his son’s bedroom in fact belonged to the elder Ozgen.

The other member of the unpacking crew, Jason Drollet, whom the jury did not know had previously pleaded guilty but had changed his plea, had his DNA at the Smithfield unit and at a storage unit in Alexandria.

Drollet was also one of the unpacking crew involved in a shopping spree at two St Vincent de Paul op shops, buying hundreds of women's blouses and household goods they would stuff into boxes to replace those boxes removed from the shipping container filled with drugs.

Bisasa and Drollet spent thousands at Crows Nest while Arancibia told an employee of the Mascot Vinnies he was buying clothes for victims of an earthquake.

'40k in a bag'

But it was the case of Mr Bishop, the Chess executive, that would backfire against the Crown.

Mr Bishop, who was once married to his boss’s daughter at Chess, had continued to work at the firm. His former father-in-law, Chess boss Chris Vancuylenberg, identified Mr Bishop to police on CCTV footage from the night the container was accessed.

But he argued he was only there as he had been threatened by those involved in the conspiracy.

Testifying against Mr Bishop was Chess forklift driver Deo Narayan, whom the Crown had offered immunity from prosecution. But evidence emerged Mr Narayan had been in regular contact with one of the conspirators, received $10,000 in cash he had hidden in his forklift cabin in return for making a container accessible, was promised another “40k in a bag” when the unpacking crew couldn’t get access to the container.

Mr Narayan accused Mr Bishop, who drives a black Maserati with personalised number plates, of involvement. But it backfired. The jury didn’t believe Mr Narayan and acquitted Mr Bishop.

After a nine-week trial, the jury deliberated for little over a day to convict Ozgen and Drollet, and acquit Mr Bishop. But they could not agree on Mr Vukici. The judge urged them to keep trying and sent them away to deliberate further.

The next day they returned, affirming that they could not agree. Judge John Pickering said he could “only speculate that the jury gave real weight to him giving sworn evidence”.

Drollet and Ozgen will be sentenced later this year along with the three who pleaded guilty: Bisasa, Arancibia, and Joshua Hamlin. They face life in prison. Mr Vukici faces a likely retrial.

Nearly five years after his arrest, his matter has been relisted for later this month.

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