Sky Global CEO indicted over encrypted chat drug trafficking, calls allegations an 'outrage'

The executive says the indictment highlights the “vilification” of anyone “who takes a stance against unwarranted surveillance.”

The indicted chief executive of the Sky Global encrypted chat service has claimed that accusations of his participation in criminal activity are an attempt to erode "the fundamental right to privacy."

On Friday, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) revealed an indictment, filed in the Southern District of California, against Sky Global's CEO, Jean-Francois Eap, as well as a former distributor of Sky Global devices, Thomas Herdman. 

US prosecutors claim the pair "knowingly and intentionally participated" in a criminal ring that distributed narcotics by facilitating the "sale and service of encrypted communications devices."

The international distribution of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine is specifically mentioned in the complaint. 

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury, accuses the pair of conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and warrants have now been issued for their arrest. 

Canada-based Sky Global is a provider of custom handsets and the developer of Sky ECC, a subscription-based end-to-end encrypted messaging application. 

Last week, Europol announced that law enforcement had broken the encryption of the network and had used client communication records to initiate a criminal takedown on March 9, leading to a "large number of arrests" as well as the seizure of cash and drugs.

In its turn, Sky Global denied these claims, instead, blaming a "disgruntled" former reseller of Sky devices and a scheme to distribute a fake -- and, therefore, insecure -- version of the Sky ECC app via skyecc.eu. 

According to the US indictment, "Sky Global's devices are specifically designed to prevent law enforcement from actively monitoring the communications between members of transnational criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking and money laundering," and the vendor "guarantees that messages stored on its devices can and will be remotely deleted by the company if the device is seized by law enforcement or otherwise compromised."

The DoJ alleges that Sky Global has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by "facilitating" criminal activity. 

Suzanne Turner, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office, said that the indictment is "another major strike against transnational crime."

Eap and Herdman, both said to be in Vancouver, Canada, face a maximum penalty of life in prison if arrested and found guilty. 

In response, Eap published a statement on Sunday, claiming that he only found out about the US indictment through media reports. The CEO has branded the allegations as false, adding that the situation highlights the "erosion of the right to privacy."

"Sky Global's technology works for the good of all. It was not created to prevent the police from monitoring criminal organizations; it exists to prevent anyone from monitoring and spying on the global community," Eap commented. "The indictment against me personally in the US is an example of the police and the government trying to vilify anyone who takes a stance against unwarranted surveillance."

Furthermore, Eap says that he and his company are being "targeted" because they "build tools to protect the fundamental right to privacy."

Over the coming days, the executive intends to put his efforts toward clearing his name of the allegations. 

"We do not condone illegal or unethical behavior by our partners or customers," Eap says. "To brand anyone who values privacy and freedom of speech as a criminal is an outrage."

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