300 Arrested in Global Crackdown on Dark Web Drug Market

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Authorities in the US and Europe have arrested nearly 300 people, seized more than $53 million and seized a dark web marketplace as part of an international crackdown on drug trafficking that authorities say was the operation largest of its kind.

The operation targeting the "Monopoly Market" is the latest major takedown of platforms selling drugs and other illicit products on the so-called dark web, a part of the Internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized tools that provide anonymity. .

Most of the arrests were made in the US, which is in the midst of an overdose crisis. Synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, kill more Americans each year than died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

“Our message to criminals on the dark web is this: They may try to hide in the furthest reaches of the internet, but the Department of Justice will find them and hold them accountable for their crimes,” said US Attorney General Merrick. Garland. The number of arrests and money seized was the highest for any international drug operation run by the Justice Department, he said.

A defendant in California ran an organization that bought fentanyl in bulk, compressed it into methamphetamine pills and sold millions of pills to thousands of people on the dark web, he said.

Investigators also got tips from local police investigating the overdose deaths, including a 19-year-old man in Colorado who loved to learn languages ​​and build his own computers, FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said.

“But some of the packages that his family thought were full of computer parts actually contained drugs that he had bought on the dark web,” he said. "Due to those drugs, that promising young man sadly died of an overdose last year."

For the first time, FBI agents from all of the bureau's field offices also visited shoppers to educate them about the overdose danger of pills sold online, which are often disguised to look like prescription drugs.

The largest number of arrests, 153, were made in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom with 55 and Germany with 52, according to the European Union police agency Europol, which coordinated the global operation.

“Our coalition of law enforcement authorities on three continents shows that we all do better when we work together,” Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said in a statement. “This operation sends a strong message to dark web criminals: international law enforcement has the means and ability to identify and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, including on the dark web.”

It seized 50.8 million euros (53.4 million dollars) in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kilograms of drugs and 117 firearms in a series of raids in several countries.

In the Netherlands, where authorities arrested 10 suspects, police said the operation was made up of "separate but complementary actions that took place in nine countries over the past 18 months."

The Dutch National Police CyberCrime Team was involved in the operation, codenamed SpecTor.

“The intelligence that Europol shared with us, such as transaction data and virtual currency addresses, helped us launch new investigations and enrich existing investigations. In this way we have identified and detained several important Dutch sellers,” said Dutch team leader Nan van de Coevering. "The success of this operation shows once again that international cooperation is essential to combat crime on the dark web."

The seized drugs include 64 kilograms (141 pounds) of fentanyl or narcotics mixed with fentanyl; more than 258 kilograms (569 pounds) of amphetamines; 43 kilograms (95 pounds) of cocaine; 43 kilograms (95 pounds) of MDMA; and more than 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of LSD and ecstasy pills, authorities said.

“Several investigations are still ongoing to identify additional individuals behind the dark web accounts,” Europol said. "As law enforcement authorities gained access to vendors' extensive buyer lists, thousands of customers around the world are now also at risk of prosecution."

The Hague-based agency built evidence-based intelligence from Germany, which it said seized the “criminal infrastructure” of the market in December 2021.

Before the operation announced on Tuesday, the German and US authorities dismantled the dark web market » Hydra » in April last year.

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