He had found another phone, in a zip-up plastic bag, broken into pieces. He held onto it for a few days, took it home and called police, waiting for them to collect it.
In evidence at the trial of four men accused of involvement in the alleged $1.5 billion importation in a shipping container from Germany, the unit’s owner Aram Yousif, was momentarily unsure when asked to name the phone.
“Is it … Blueberry? Blueberry mobile?” Mr Yousif said.
BlackBerry phones, which enable end-to-end encryption making it hard to access their data, are emerging as a key focus in the trial of four men – Philip Ian Bishop, Mehmet Ozgen, Jason Drollet and Solomone Vukici – in the NSW District Court over the failed importation.
One of the phones, a BlackBerry Curve 9320 found during the Smithfield bust “had a password which was technically difficult for the police to crack”, Crown prosecutor David Staehli, SC, told the jury.
The court has heard it was a “Phantom” BlackBerry, meaning it could not make calls and was only able to be used for sending and receiving encrypted messages.
Cracking the encryption became such a priority it was included in a “job lot” of 19 BlackBerrys that the AFP had seized from different and unrelated operations across Australia and sent to Ottawa for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to try to access their data.
The phones were sent to the Mounties because Australian authorities did not have the technical expertise to perform the task, the jury heard.
Defence counsel has focused on the fact AFP officers do not know what the Mounties did to the phone to access data because that information is confidential to the Canadian police. BlackBerry’s maker, Research in Motion, is based in Canada.
The Crown has told the jury that “ultimately that password to the BlackBerry was enabled and downloaded”.
During the first 12 days of evidence in the projected six-week trial, prosecutors have detailed phone messages between some of the accused and others involved in the importation in the days before the bust.
On the night the men allegedly planned to access the container at the Blacktown premises of Chess Moving, a forklift driver, who has since cut a deal with prosecutors for his testimony in return for immunity, made the container inaccessible.
Police allege one BlackBerry was active with messages that night.
“From that phone, police were able to see text messages in which people involved in what was going on with the container sent each other messages and their frustration about what should be going on,” Mr Staehli, SC, told the jury.
The Crown alleges that one phone “was found in circumstances that we can put to you was Mr Ozgen’s phone” and was “used to contact some of the other people involved in the case.”
As the delay became apparent, one message retrieved from the phone read: “Just sit tight, bit of a f…-up at our end.”
Another read: “F…ing spewing not getting stock tonight.”
The following night, as they allegedly prepared to access the shipping container, messages were flying again with one found on a BlackBerry encouraging: “Boys, read check list and go over with the bro next to you.
“Keep this list and read it a few times – also relax, breathe, we’re almost there, there’s no heat on the box, no-one knows but us.”
The circumstances of the discovery of the fourth BlackBerry have also been scrutinised by defence counsel, noting the differing accounts between police and the owner of the Smithfield unit.
One officer told the jury that Mr Yousif had said he found it in a box that contained small foam.
Defence barrister Paul Hogan for Mr Ozgen asked Mr Yousif if the phone was found in a box with small foam pieces? “No.”
The officer had said Mr Yousif handed the phone to her at his home. Mr Yousif told the court he was not home and his wife had handed it over.
The trial continues.
Michael Evans is Investigations Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.