Twenty-four people have been arrested in the UK in one of the largest ever international operations targeting a criminal dark web marketplace.
Operational activity over the last six months – coordinated by the National Crime Agency in collaboration with UK policing partners – also resulted in the seizure of over £220,000 in suspected criminal cash and bitcoin, and more than 50 kilos of cocaine, MDMA, cannabis, methamphetamine and ketamine.
The operation, known as Dark HunTOR, began when German authorities arrested the marketplace’s alleged operator earlier this year and gained access to the wider criminal infrastructure. This enabled officers to share intelligence packages with law enforcement agencies around the world on the site’s vendors and buyers.
Countries including Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States were involved, with international coordination efforts led by Europol and Eurojust.
So far, the wider investigation has resulted in 150 alleged suspects being arrested, more than €26.7 million (USD 31 million) cash and virtual currency seized, 234kg of drugs and 45 firearms. The seized drugs include 152 kg of amphetamine, 27 kg of opioids and over 25,000 ecstasy pills.
Officers from the Dark Web Intelligence, Collection and Exploitation team (DICE) – a joint unit comprising experts from the NCA and policing – analysed the UK data and identified the criminal dealers assessed to present the highest risk.
Intelligence was then passed to Regional Dark Web Operations Teams – based within Regional Organised Crime Units and the Metropolitan Police Service – who arrested the individuals on suspicion of selling criminal goods on the dark web.
Damian Barrow, Senior NCA Manager in the Dark Web Intelligence Collection and Exploitation team, said:
“The individuals we have targeted who are supplying drugs via the dark web are ultimately preying on the vulnerable and destroying communities.
“This operation shows that those who try to use the dark web to anonymously commit crimes can be identified and will be tracked down.
“We would like to thank all partners involved in this operation, particularly Europol and Eurojust, and police forces and ROCUs across the UK.”
The National Cybercrime Programme lead for the Darkweb, Phil Donnelly, added:
“This successful operation shows the impact law enforcement is having on the criminal use of the dark web and encrypted platforms. The joint working of UK DICE, alongside our European partners, is allowing us to understand and identify offenders who are using technology to try and hide their criminal enterprises and bring them to justice.”
Europol’s Deputy Executive Director of Operations, Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, said: “The point of operations such as the one today is to put criminals operating on the dark web on notice: the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web.”
27 October 2021