(The Hague) A massive crackdown on drug trafficking on the dark web, the underground version of the internet, has led to 288 arrests, mostly in Europe and the United States, and the seizure of nearly 51 million euros (CA$76 million), Europol announced on Tuesday.
Law enforcement seized the illegal “Monopoly Market” platform, which sold only narcotics, in the latest major operation targeting the dark web, Dutch police said.
“288 sellers and buyers who engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods have been arrested across Europe, Great Britain, the United States and Brazil”, welcomed the agency of European police, based in The Hague.
850 kilos of drugs and 117 firearms were also seized, added Europol, which coordinated the international operation “ SpecTor ” which involved nine countries.
Sellers arrested “ were also active in other illicit markets ”. Some of them were “high value” targets, according to the agency, which hailed an operation “further hindering the trade in drugs and illicit goods on the dark web”.
The crackdown followed a German police operation in 2021 in which the platform’s criminal infrastructure was taken offline.
“Europol has compiled intelligence sets based on valuable evidence provided by German authorities”, which “has served as the basis for hundreds of national investigations”, the agency said.
Arrests took place across the EU – including 52 in Germany, ten in the Netherlands and five in France – but also in the UK (158), the US (55), and one person was arrested in Brazil.
The narcotics seized included more than 258 kg of amphetamines, 43 kg of cocaine, 43 kg of MDMA and more than 10 kg of LSD and ecstasy pills, the same source said. 51 million euros were seized in cash and virtual currencies.
“Criminals may imagine themselves to be anonymous on the dark web, but they are not,” Nan van de Coevering of the Dutch investigation services said in a statement.
“ In response to this operation, we published a list on the dark web containing all the pseudonyms of the arrested sellers who have ceased their illegal practices ”, he specified.
Buyers know that way they can’t trust the individuals on the listing, he added.
The dark web, where the anonymity of users is guaranteed, has been under increasing attack in recent years from international police.
“ Hydra Market ”, a platform on the dark web considered “ the illegal market with the highest turnover in the world ” with 1.23 billion euros in sales in 2020 alone, was dismantled in 2022.
In 2021, 150 people who bought or sold drugs or weapons on the dark web were arrested worldwide in Operation “DarkHunTOR”.
This new operation “ sends a strong message to dark web criminals ” welcomed Europol’s Director General, Catherine De Bolle, quoted in the press release.
“International law enforcement has the means and ability to identify you and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web,” she continued.
A number of investigations into the identity of the people behind the dark web accounts have not yet been completed, according to Dutch police, who do not rule out further prosecution.