Canadian CEO charged in U.S. for providing tech to drug cartels

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The chief executive of a Vancouver-based company appeared in a Washington state court on Thursday in the first U.S. case in which a company has been targeted for providing criminal drug cartels with the technology to evade law enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos was indicted, along with four of his associates, on charges related to providing criminal organizations with cellular phones and encrypted networks to coordinate the shipment of illegal drugs around the world.

“Phantom Secure allegedly provided a service designed to allow criminals the world over to evade law enforcement to traffic drugs and commit acts of violent crime without detection,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement.

It is the first time the U.S. government has targeted a company and its principals for providing criminals with the technology to evade law enforcement while committing transnational drug trafficking, the Department of Justice said.

Phantom Secure, which has a public website promoting its encrypted email and chat service plans, advertised its products as “impervious to decryption, wiretapping or legal third-party records requests,” according to court documents.

Ramos, a British Columbia resident, was arrested in Seattle last week and will face charges in San Diego. The four other defendants remain at large.

Ramos or a representative of Phantom Secure could not be reached for comment.

Reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Editing by Cynthia Osterman