The Hague (AFP): Police in Europe and the United States announced on Tuesday the arrest of 150 people who allegedly bought and sold significant volumes of drugs, weapons, and other illegal goods on the dark web.
Europol and US authorities said they seized tens of millions of euros in cash and virtual currencies when they built a clandestine online trading market in the 10-month operation Dark Huntor.
They said that major counterfeit drug dealers, who were often stained with dangerous substances such as fentanyl, had been arrested on the dark web.
Most of the arrests that took place over several months took place in the United States, with 65 people, Germany, 47, and the United Kingdom 24. Others came from Bulgaria, France, Holland, Italy, and Switzerland.
The arrests came after a similar joint operation led by the Germans seized the largest illegal market on the dark web, DarkMarket, in January.
By acquiring DarkMarket, authorities were able to overcome the levels of anonymity that protected merchants and traced transactions back to their origins.
“These operations aim to signal to criminals operating on the dark web that the police agency has the means and global alliances to expose them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities”. Said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Europol’s deputy director of operations.
US officials said at a press conference in Washington that illegal drug trafficking moved more heavily to the dark web during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said that in addition to simply selling illegal narcotics such as cocaine, amphetamines, and ecstasy. Many of the drugs sold were allegedly common prescription drugs such as Adderall, Xanax, and oxycontin. But they were mixed with other hazardous substances such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that of the more than 200,000 pills seized on the U.S. side of the operation, 90% contained “fake opioids or other narcotics”. Such as extremely dangerous fentanyl.
In Washington, Lecouffe said that most of those arrested were high-quality targets. “Among the most gainful or sensitive actors on the dark web.” The US Department of Justice said the U.S. arrests involved a major operation in Houston, Texas. Which accepted anonymous online orders and mailed drugs to buyers across the country.
The operation generated a total of 26.7 million euros (31 million dollars) in cash and virtual currencies. As well as 45 cannons and 234 kilograms (516 pounds) of drugs, mainly amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, and opioids.
In parallel with Operation Dark Huntor. Authorities said Italian police closed two similar underground markets called “DeepSea” and “Berlusconi”. Altogether, Italian markets boasted more than 100,000 advertisements for illegal products, said Europol. Which coordinated the operation together with its dual judicial authority, Eurojust.
The arrest of three people in France in Operation Dark Huntor led to the closure of another dark web location called “Le Monde Parallele” or “Mundo Parallelo”, according to a French police officer.
Rolf van Wegberg, TU Delft University of cybercrime investigator, said the operation signaled a postponement of online crime investigations.
“Such operations have been in the past to arrest the controllers of these markets. Now we see that police services are targeting the best sellers”. He told Dutch public service broadcaster KRO-NCRV.
Monaco told reporters that the operation proved that there was no real protection for illegal traffic on the dark web. Where the TOR browser allegedly ensures anonymity.
“Those who sell illegal drugs and believe they are safe behind layers of digital anonymity. My message to you is simple. There is no dark internet. We can and will shine a light,” she said.