Operation Costello sentences reach 150 years as Luton cocaine dealing trio jailed
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Three members of a drug dealing network which sold wholesale amounts of cocaine have become the latest to be jailed by Operation Costello, taking the specialist Bedfordshire Police team's total jail sentences to 150 years.
Waseem Choudhry, Faizan Yaqoob and Fizan Khan, all from Luton, have been jailed for a total of 32-and-a-half years for their involvement in a network which used the encrypted communications tool Encrochat to sell blocks of cocaine.
Choudhry, 34, of Oakley Gardens, was yesterday (17 June) sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment for his role leading the organised crime group (OCG) which sold and distributed bulk amounts of the class A drug, often kilogrammes at a time.
After establishing that Choudhry was behind one of the handles on the platform, Costello detectives carried out a warrant at his Luton home and arrested him in June 2020. When searching his address, they found the encrypted device stashed inside a hot water bottle, which was inside a dishwasher.
Expert analytical work showed that Choudhry was the user of a particular encrypted mobile device, with data showing the phone connecting to over 400 mobile phone masts between March and April 2020, notably ones near his home in Luton and a family address in Woking, Surrey.
Messages on the encrypted device also exposed Choudhry speaking with other Encrochat users to arrange exchanges of blocks of cocaine worth tens of thousands of pounds, along with meetings to trade cash and discussions around the storage of vast quantities of drugs.
Images found on the system also showed blocks of pressed white powder, thought to be cocaine.
His lieutenant, 32-year-old Yaqoob, of Kingsway, also had an Encrochat device, with the pair frequently discussing drug deals and cash exchanges.
Messages and images indicated that Yaqoob travelled to Surrey, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and London to deliver or pick up cocaine or cash. He was jailed in April for nine years.
Fizan Khan, 26, of Beechwood Road, was jailed in May for six-and-a-half years for his involvement in the OCG, with messages on an Encrochat phone attributed to him discussing transporting a shipment of cocaine worth £38,000 to Leicester. On his arrest in June 2020, investigators found digital scales, cutting agents and cocaine at his home.
The Encrochat platform, which was used exclusively by networks of criminals, was dismantled in spring 2020 in the UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation, after its servers were seized. The data subsequently allowed investigators to shine a spotlight on how organised criminals were operating by viewing the messages and other media sent between users.
Detective Sergeant Scott Hannam, from Bedfordshire Police, said: “This was one of the first cases our Operation Costello team picked up and it’s really satisfying to see more drug dealers who operated in our county facing significant spells behind bars.
“Choudhry was a key link within a criminal network which worked to distribute vast quantities of cocaine across a wide area, which no doubt had a significant and harmful impact on a number of communities. It’s positive news that he and his associates will no longer be able to do this.
“This is the latest result for our dedicated Operation Costello team, and our specialist investigators continue to pore through data linked to a number of organised criminals who were involved in drug dealing and other serious offences. Our work doesn’t stop here; we’ll continue to work tirelessly to bring these people to justice.”
Anyone with information about drug dealing or wider organised crime activity can report it via our online reporting tool or by calling 101.
All of these reports are fed into police intelligence and can help detectives build up a picture of organised crime, even if police do not act on the information straight away.
You can also report information anonymously via Crimestoppers on its website or by calling 0800 555 111.
Operation Costello is the largest operation in Bedfordshire Police’s history to combat organised crime gangs and is the force’s response to the national Operation Venetic, which looks at criminality associated with specialist encrypted phones.
The team’s investigations have secured jail sentences of 150 years for those using the devices for illegal purposes.
Cracking the encryption on these specialist devices has enabled police to shine a light on the networks suspected of being involved in the highest levels of serious and organised crime across the country.