Murder plot revealed in EncroChat texts of 'criminal middleman', court told

Yahya Aboukar, of Earlham Grove in Forest Gate, will next appear at the Old Bailey on March 18 2022

Paul Fontaine was a go-to man for guns, ammunition, class A drugs and counterfeit cash, it was alleged at the Old Bailey - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A “criminal middleman” from Hackney used EncroChat messages to supply a gun used in one murder and plot a second shooting weeks later, a court has heard.

Paul Fontaine - of the Pembury Estate in Lower Clapton - is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of a string of offences in relation to the above.

Fontaine, 36, was allegedly a go-to man for guns, ammunition, class A drugs and counterfeit cash.

In his role, it's claimed that he conspired to supply a firearm used in the murder of a man called Abdullahi Mahmoud in Enfield on March 19 2020.

Within weeks, Fontaine allegedly conspired with co-defendant Frankie Sinclair to murder a second man, Kieran Hassan, and others in a rival group.

Fontaine and 34-year-old Sinclair, from Cardiff in south Wales, deny plotting to murder Mr Hassan.

Prosecutor Kevin Dent QC told jurors at the Central Criminal Court that the defendants did not “beat about the bush” in EncroChat encrypted messages.

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Law enforcement agencies were able to get hold of EncroChat data at a time when the users thought nobody would ever be able to decipher what they were saying.

Mr Dent said that the murder conspiracy was in revenge for an incident at the Cardiff home of Sinclair’s mother on March 31, 2020.

He told jurors: “Frankie Sinclair wanted help from Mr Fontaine supplying a firearm and ammunition so that Mr Sinclair could carry out a revenge murder for the shooting that had happened at his mother’s house.”

At the time, Fontaine was “low on stock of firearms” and turned to a third party, known as Chestbridge, jurors were told.

“During the course of their messaging, Mr Fontaine indicated that he was running short on his own supply of firearms… because part of his stock had been used in a murder that had taken place a couple of weeks earlier,” explained Mr Dent.

It was alleged that a Walther PPK handgun and ammunition was supplied to Sinclair for the planned revenge attack.

There was only one problem – the bullets did not fit the gun, the court heard.

While the defendants conspired on the attack in Cardiff, EncroChat messaging also reportedly disclosed their separate involvement with other criminal activity.

Sinclair has admitted being involved in the supply of cocaine and heroin, while Fontaine denies all the charges against him, including plotting to supply heroin and possess counterfeit currency.

Mr Dent said the defendants both used EncroChat mobile devices, which cost £1,000 per handset.

Fontaine went under the codename “Usualwolf” and Sinclair had the handle “Nudetrain”, jurors heard.

Mr Dent said EncroChat phones carried a higher level of security, with the expectation it was “hard or impossible” for anyone on the outside to access them.

The devices could only communicate with each other – “so not the kind of phone device you could order a pizza," said the lawyer.

They were equipped with a feature that allowed messages to be automatically deleted, with a “burn time” of as little as one minute.

Also on the phones was a “panic wipe” facility, designed to delete all the data on the device.

Mr Dent told jurors: “Because these devices come with the expectation of high level of security, we say when you look at the messages you can see Paul Fontaine and Frankie Sinclair and others were communicating in fairly open terms about the criminality they were involved in.

“We suggest that they were pretty up front and explicit. There was no beating about the bush, which makes sense when there was this expectation of privacy.”

Mr Dent added: “Now, it does not seem this was such a good idea.”

The trial continues.