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Ocean’s Thirteen: Men In Black

It all starts with computer professionals choosing for the dark side. Six years ago mysterious men in black and tons of drugs conquered the port of Antwerp. Today -after the court of Antwerp traced the „Ocean’s Thirteen gang“- the investigators explain how they were able to catch these cybercriminals.

During the trial of the so-called „Ocean’s Thirteen gang“, the investigators gave inside information about the methods used by the criminals and the efforts that were made by Belgian, Dutch and American police teams in order to take down this international drug gang.

It seems like a Hollywood movie: mysterious men in black register themselves to port operators and leave espionage equipment behind, to smuggle containers filled with cocaine and heroin easier. Behind the scenes: a gang with connections all over the world: the Netherlands, Turkey, Peru and Belgium. An organised crime team that reached out to leading Flemish IT professionals to access the identification codes of the containers at Antwerp terminals, in order to smuggle drugs.

Forget the folkloric stories about ‚insider‘ and „bribed dockworkers“. If „cut out the middleman“ is the motto for a digital port, the same rule applies to drug gangs when it comes to smuggling drugs in and out Antwerp.

Suspicious power sockets

In 2012 suspicious electrical sockets were discovered at DP World. These sockets contained equipment cybercriminals use to hack into a company’s internal network, in order to obtain the PIN codes of containers in which they hid the drugs. This way they managed to retrieve 16 containers filled with drugs (= two tons of cocaine and one ton of heroin). This started a large-scale investigation, completed in 2017. Several companies like MSC, CSAV and Sea-Invest were targeted by their cyber-attacks.

The session in May, about the investigations that were led, was a real marathon. The fact that this session took decades is rare but it serves two purposes: to show how far criminals go in smuggling drugs via the port of Antwerp, but also to show the potential of a court within tracing and reconstructing widespread drug networks.

Severe penalties

The evidence presented by the investigators could be the script of a movie: in addition to the images of men in tailored suits, it contained pages of intercepted telephone contacts, satellite images and data retrieved from mobile phone masts. Not to mention the carousel of shady import companies to disguise the drug trafficking. The Public Prosecution prosecuted 19 people, which one of them has died in the meantime.

Flemish masterminds

Although the gang has widespread branches in the Netherlands, Turkey and Peru, the masterminds behind the hacks were three Flemish IT professionals – Filip M., Davy V. and Wence V.D.M – who are well known as top experts in their field: preventing, protecting large companies against hacks into their IT systems . Wence V.D.M. is even active at the consultancy company PwC. M. and V. knew each other since the 90’s when they were both member of a hackers collective. Even M’s his wife Dorien C. is committed to trail for cooperating with at least one drug deal.

The gang even rents offices in the same building as CSAV, overlooking the offices of PSA. At that moment none of them were aware of the fact that they were involved in a ‚fishy‘ business… They say. The public prosecutor does not believe them.

It is V.D.M. who, via PwC, finds out that there is an investigation into ‚their‘ gang. In November 2012 the masterminds arranged a meeting with O. in order to transfer all their knowledge onto him. The masterminds want to get out. ‚Small detail‘: Wence V.D.M. and Filip M., both gave interviews to Humo and Mo (Belgian magazines) about the fight against cybercrime at the time they were involved in the gang.

Port operators in danger

„We take this form of crime seriously,“ says the Antwerp public prosecutor. „The integrity of our port operating systems are in danger. The acts were committed by talented IT professionals that the government could use in their fight against cybercrime. Against reason, they have chosen to work with criminals who are capable of anything. The public prosecutor demands five years‘ imprisonment and a fine of € 5.000 against M., and a fine of € 2.000 and two years‘ imprisonment is hanging above the heads of V. and V.D.M..

Against the instigators of the large-scale hackings – two Turkish-Dutch criminals: Orhan A. and Ahmet O. – the Public Prosecution demands a fine of € 10.000, twelve years in prison and confiscation of the drug money. Unfortunately for the Belgian investigators they slipped through the net and are most likely enjoying their ‚criminal pension‘ in Turkey. The appeals will be held on the 26th of September and the 1st of October.

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*Written by Michiel Leen, for Flows.be. (Translated by Logiqstar), Flows.be has granted permission for us to republish this article.