A hosting company in Wormer in Noord Holland which is allegedly facilitating illegal internet activities such as child pornography, cyber attacks and phishing has eluded justice for 20 years because malicious intent is almost impossible to prove, the NRC reports.
Ecatel, owned by Bap K (75) and Reinier van E (34) since 2002, has become an impenetrable web of international limited companies some of which are suspected of being involved in illegal activities, the paper said.
‘Police knew what Ecatel was doing but it was all based on anecdote, gossip and bad statistics,’ cybersecurity professor at TU Delft Michel van Eeten told the paper. ‘They wanted to know if we could show which Dutch hosting companies were facilitating the most junk.’
Van Eeten found that Ecatel was among the top ten of companies hosting activities such as child pornography and phishing but, he said, that in itself is no indication of the extent to which its owners knowingly colluded in illegal activity. ‘That is very difficult to prove and a lasting frustration to police.’
The international character of the enterprise also favours the company because it is difficult to find out who is responsible for the illegal content and where they are registered, if they can be traced at all.
But although according to the law a hosting company is not responsible for the content of its clients’ websites it must act if told about illegal activities on its servers.
However, according to those involved in the investigations – an ever longer list, including police, the justice minister and Europol – Ecatel excels in delaying techniques, such as demanding proof that children in child pornography images are really underage, or only enabling very few abuse reports at the time.
As reports of illegal activity were piling up, in 2019 American internet activist Ron Guilmette found out that a huge haul of stolen American IP addresses worth millions had been stored by a Limburg business man on Ecatel servers.
After alerting Europol he then heard nothing further, he told the NRC.
In 2020 the public prosecutor sent in tax fraud agency FIOD because of suspected financial constructions by which hundreds of thousands of euros have been channelled abroad. This is a last resort, insiders told the NRC referring to American gangester Al Capone who, they said, ‘could never be caught out, but they could prove tax fraud.’
How the case against the two men is progressing is not clear. The two men deny all involvement in criminal activities.
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