More than 50 accused criminals ensnared by the AN0M encrypted messaging app secretly run by the FBI are preparing to challenge its admissibility, lawyers for an alleged co-conspirator in a massive drug import have flagged in a Sydney court.
Edward Lee, 42, is accused of being one of the key players behind the importation of 160 kilograms of cocaine to Melbourne from Hong Kong via Sydney inside an air freight shipment of air purifying units on May 31 last year. Comancheros boss Mark Buddle is among Lee’s alleged co-conspirators and currently before the courts in Victoria charged with importing and conspiring to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.
Details of the alleged importation were aired when Lee, a resident of Leichhardt in Sydney’s inner west, applied for bail in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday. According to police facts detailed in court, business records and surveillance evidence show the cocaine shipment was preceded by two dummy runs, in which approximately 120 kilograms of weight plates were placed inside similar shipments instead of drugs.
Justice Desmond Fagan said the facts allege “it was an elaborate, evidently well funded, highly organised enterprise involving extensive planning and the participation of numerous people”.
He said the estimated value of the imported drugs was between $35 million and $52 million.
The court heard prosecutors are in a position to tender a “large body of evidence” showing the elaborate enterprise was organised in large part by the transmission of encrypted messages via a network of handsets – using a system known as AN0M. Lee’s alleged part in the operation involved communicating with parties in Australia, Hong Kong and Turkey – where Buddle was located until his deportation earlier this month.
Australian law enforcement agencies had access to the messages transmitted on AN0M through cooperation with the United States’ FBI, which secretly received copies of messages sent via the app that was promoted as a safe platform for criminal networks.
In June last year, the AN0M app was shut down as the FBI sting culminated in almost 1000 arrests worldwide. The Australian Federal Police under Operation Ironside made hundreds of arrests and seized more than 6 tonnes of drugs and $52 million in suspected proceeds of crime.