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Four arrested by the NCA in Northern Ireland as part of Encrochat drug investigation

National Crime Agency officers have arrested four people in Northern Ireland as part of a major investigation into the alleged importation of drugs.

In a series of raids supported by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, arrests were made in Lisburn, Antrim and Crumlin on Tuesday (17 November), and Limavady yesterday.

Three of the people were charged last night with offences relating to the supply of class A and B drugs and money laundering.

They are Samuel Manning, 33, from Lady Wallace Gardens, Lisburn, Mervyn John Armstrong, 41, from Millhouse Road, Antrim, and Sean Gerard Cassidy, 44, from Tully Road, Antrim.

Cassidy was also charged with conspiracy to import a prohibited firearm and ammunition.

Three of the men - Manning, Armstrong and Cassidy appeared at Ballymena Magistrates Court via video-link on Thursday. The fourth man was released on bail.

The NCA investigation was launched after analysis of messages shared on Encrochat, the encrypted messaging platform that was brought down earlier this year as part of Operation Venetic.

Investigators suspect those messages contained details of drug importations and cash movements linked to a Northern Ireland-based organised crime group.

They initially carried out a series of searches at a number of properties in June, before moving in to make these arrests this week.

NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham said:

“This investigation is one of the most significant impacting on Northern Ireland to have fallen out of Operation Venetic, focusing on a criminal network suspected of sourcing and supplying class A and B drugs, and laundering the proceeds. We suspect one of the individuals was also looking into purchasing a firearm.

“This type of crime fuels violence and exploitation in our communities, and as such is a priority.  Working with our partners at the PSNI we are determined to do all we can to target and disrupt organised criminals targeting Northern Ireland.”

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