Six Australians charged by FBI over alleged links to underworld app An0m

그만큼 FBI has charged six Australians over their alleged links to An0m encrypted devices, with the accused men ranging from administrators, who allegedly ran the network, to distributors, who allegedly controlled teams that provided the devices to criminals.

The An0m devices were released in October 2018 by a convicted narcotics importer who was working as an informant for the FBI.

The FBI subsequently spent almost three years monitoring the content of messages sent using the platform with the assistance of the Australian federal police, until it was shut down on Tuesday and the infiltration was revealed.

More than 12,000 devices were sold to criminal syndicates operating in about 100 countries who sent 27m messages before the network was shut down.

Seventeen people across the world have been charged in an FBI indictment, including Turkish citizen Hakan Ayik, who previously lived in Australia.

The men have been charged in the US with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act and face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Ayik, Australian citizen Domenico Catanzariti, and Swedish citizen Maximilian Rivkin were the three administrators of An0m, the FBI alleged.

Administrators controlled the network, setting up new subscriptions and removing accounts, and had the ability to remotely destroy the contents of a device upon request, according to the indictment.

The FBI said Ayik and Rivkin were fugitives currently residing in Turkey, but Catanzariti, from Adelaide, was in custody.

The FBI alleged that two other Australian men living in Turkey, Baris Tukel and Erkan Yusef Dogan, were An0m “influencers and distributors”. Tukel, Dogan, Ayik and Rivkin were the influencers in the enterprise, the FBI alleged.

Tukel and Dogan have both previously been found to have links to the Comanchero motorcycle gang and the FBI said they were also “fugitives”.

“Influencers are well-known crime figures who wield significant power and influence over other criminal associates,” the indictment said.

The other Australian distributors, the FBI alleged, were Shane Geoffrey May, Osemah Elhassen and Edwin Harmendra Kumar.

The FBI alleged the distributors controlled groups of agents who provided the devices, collected fees for their use, could directly communicate with administrators and also shared similar powers regarding the remote deletion of data.

May and Elhassen were listed by the FBI as fugitives residing in Indonesia and Colombia respectively. Kumar, from Sydney, was believed to have been arrested in the past week.

The AFP was unable to provide further details about Catanzariti or Kumar, including when they were arrested, if they had appeared in court and the process for their extradition. It also declined to comment on whether it was assisting in the capture of the other four Australian citizens charged by the FBI who were classified as “fugitives”.

The FBI alleged the An0m enterprise laundered money related to the profits of selling the devices and sought to avoid law enforcement by locating its “technical infrastructure” outside the US.

The money the group made was significant, the FBI claimed: a six-month subscription to An0m cost $1,700 in Australian or Canadian dollars, or between €1,000 and €1,500 in Europe.

The devices were promoted to potential clients as not subject to US law and “designed by criminals for criminals”, the indictment said.

The FBI said the operation, codenamed Trojan Shield, had resulted in 800 arrests and the seizures of almost 40 tonnes in drugs and precursor chemicals; 250 firearms; and more than $48m in various worldwide currencies. There were also “dozens of public corruption cases” started because of the investigation.

The AFP commissioner, Reece Kershaw, said on Tuesday the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Tola) Act, passed in 2018, had been used for the first time as part of the operation, along with a legal authorisation from the FBI.

The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is reviewing the Act, and was due to complete its work in September last year.

James Renwick, the independent national security legislation monitor, has previously recommended 33 changes to significantly amend the Act as it relates to new powers given to police and intelligence agencies. The Law Council has backed the changes.

But Mike Burgess, the current head of Asio, said in a 2018 statement issued in his former role as director general of the Australian Signals Directorate that “many of the claims about the ‘dangerous’ nature of the Act are hyperbolic, inaccurate and influenced by self-interest, rather than the national interest.

“The true danger is the thing the Tola Act seeks to prevent: terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals communicating in secret, without law enforcement and security agencies being able to ‘crack their code’.”

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