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Police in Europe and the United States on Tuesday announced the arrest of 150 people who allegedly bought and sold large volumes of drugs, weapons and other illegal goods on the dark web.
Europol and U.S. authorities have said they seized tens of millions of euros in cash and virtual currencies while setting up an online underground trading market as part of the 10-month Dark HunTOR operation.
They said the main traffickers of counterfeit drugs, often contaminated with dangerous substances like fentanyl, on the dark web had been arrested.
Most of the arrests, which took place over several months, took place in the United States, with 65 people; Germany, 47; and Great Britain 24. Others came from Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland.
The arrests came after a similar joint operation led by the Germans seized the largest illegal dark web market, DarkMarket, in January.
By taking control of DarkMarket, authorities were able to break down the layers of anonymity that protected merchants and trace transactions back to their origins.
“The purpose of operations like this is to warn criminals operating on the dark web (that) the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to expose them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities. “, said the deputy director of operations of Europol. said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe.
U.S. officials told a press conference in Washington that the illegal drug trade had shifted further to the dark web during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said that in addition to direct sales of illegal narcotics like cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy, many of the drugs sold were allegedly common prescription drugs like Adderall, Xanax and Oxycontin, but were associated with other hazardous substances such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
High value targets
US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said of more than 200,000 pills seized from the US side of the operation, 90 percent contained “opioids or other counterfeit narcotics” such as extremely dangerous fentanyl.
Speaking in Washington, Lecouffe said most of those arrested were high-value targets, “among the most prolific or sensitive actors in the dark web.”
The US Department of Justice said the arrests in the United States included a major operation in Houston, Texas that took anonymous online orders and shipped drugs to buyers across the country by mail.
In total, the operation brought in 26.7 million euros ($ 31 million) in cash and virtual currencies, as well as 45 firearms and 234 kilograms (516 pounds) of drugs, mostly amphetamines, from l ecstasy, cocaine and opioids.
Along with Operation Dark HunTOR, officials said Italian police closed two similar underground markets dubbed “DeepSea” and “Berlusconi”.
Together, the Italian markets have boasted of more than 100,000 advertisements of illegal products, said Europol, which coordinated the operation with its twin judicial agency Eurojust.
The arrest of three people in France as part of Operation Dark HunTOR resulted in the closure of another dark web trading platform, called “Le Monde Parallel”, or “Monde Parallel”, according to an official at the French police.
Rolf van Wegberg, a cybercrime investigator at TU Delft University, said the operation marked a shift in online crime investigations.
âIn the past, this kind of operation was aimed at arresting the controllers of these markets. We are now seeing police services targeting the best sellers, âhe told Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV.
Monaco told reporters that the operation showed that there was no real protection against illicit trade on the dark web, where anonymity is believed to be secured by the TOR browser.
“Those who peddle illegal drugs and think they are safe behind layers of digital anonymity: my message to you is simple. There is no dark internet. We can and will enlighten us,” a- she declared.
Â© 2021 AFP