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‘Silver bullet:’ Mass arrests after BlackBerry cracked five years after seizure

Strike Force Millstream detectives arrested the five men in a series of raids from Sydney to Dubai last month.

Benjamin Neil Pitt was one of two men arrested in Dubai last month.

Benjamin Neil Pitt was one of two men arrested in Dubai last month.Credit:Facebook

The arrests culminated a seven-year investigation into money laundering, criminal groups and at least four commercial importations between 2013-14, valued at $1.5 billion. Nearly two dozen men have been implicated.

Mr Farrugia, 36, Mr Kanmez, 34, and Mario Lang, 57, were separately arrested in Sydney on June 16.

More than 12,000km away in Dubai, alleged kingpins Benjamin Neil Pitt and Matthew Battah are believed to have left Australia in 2015.

Police allege Mr Battah owned the BlackBerry that was cracked in April.

It is the second device to be unlocked as part of the investigation, after Canadian authorities successfully cracked another BlackBerry in 2017, which was central in an earlier trial of four men linked to the syndicate.

A request by Australian authorities to extradite the men has been officially lodged with a Dubai court. The request is expected to be heard next month.

Commander of the NSW organised crime squad Detective Superintendent Martin Fileman said the strong working partnership with Dubai police showed Dubai was “not a place where [alleged] criminals can hide from law enforcement”.

It is the third investigation in which Dubai police have assisted in the arrest of Australian members of organised criminal syndicates in recent years.

An Interpol Red Notice issued for the arrest of Matthew Battah.

An Interpol Red Notice issued for the arrest of Matthew Battah.Credit:Dubai Police Instagram

Last week Mr Farrugia and Mr Lang were both granted bail at the Downing Centre Local Court, after lodging bail sureties of $1,000,000 and $200,000 respectively.

During Mr Farrugia’s bail application the court heard the recently unlocked BlackBerry and a handwritten ledger of alleged cash and drug transactions will be used as “principle sources of evidence” against him.

Mario Lang, from Baulkham Hills, has also been released on bail after posting $200,000 surety.

Mario Lang, from Baulkham Hills, has also been released on bail after posting $200,000 surety.Credit:Facebook

“Those two sources of evidence, corroborated with surveillance, intercepts and banking evidence, [are] substantial and compelling,” said crown prosecutor Anna Payten.

She said the “Battah BlackBerry” revealed repeated correspondence with another BlackBerry user, identified by the handle “Sprinter88”, as well as the nicknames “Font” and “Flash”.

“There is substantial evidence that the user of handle Sprinter88 and Flash was a person intimately involved in the supply of prohibited drugs,” Ms Payten said, adding all three names were “references to [Mr Farrugia]”.

It is alleged Mr Farrugia is well known to associates as “Font”.

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The court also heard extracts from the handwritten “Battah ledger”. One such extract included a BlackBerry conversation on April 6, 2015, between Mr Battah and Sprinter88, in which Mr Battah allegedly wrote “Okay brother, what price were those five [kilograms of MDMA] at?”

Sprinter88 replied to the message, “55”. A note about the five kilograms was then allegedly recorded in the ledger, stating the drug was priced at $55,000 per kilogram. One day later $276,000 allegedly landed in Mr Farrugia’s personal bank account.

Defence barrister for Mr Farrugia Avni Djemal disputed the links made to his client, arguing “a great deal of extrapolation” was required to link Mr Farrugia to the BlackBerry communication.

He said the 3000 messages extracted from the BlackBerry in April fall outside the period that is the subject of many of the charges against Mr Farrugia.

Mr Djemal added it made little sense Mr Farrugia would use his own personal account for deposits linked to the syndicate, thereby “triggering every financial record possible”.

“There may be an adequate [prosecution] case, but to suggest it is strong… is not the right presumption to make.”

Mr Farrugia, charged with supplying a commercial quantity of drugs and dealing with more than $4.5 million in proceeds of crime, was granted strict conditional bail.

He will reside at his home in Erina Heights, where he is required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and report to police daily. He is not to use any encrypted device and will next appear before court on August 11.

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