DOJ, Europol arrest hundreds as part of international darknet drug operation

Authorities from nine countries seized $31 million and hundreds of kilograms of drugs as part of an effort to disrupt criminal rings operating on the DarkNet.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

The Justice Department, Europol and dozens of police forces worldwide announced hundreds of arrests and the seizure of $31 million as part of operation Dark HunTOR -- an effort to disrupt dark web marketplaces selling guns, drugs and more. 

Police forces in the US, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK arrested 150 people while seizing 45 firearms and 234kg of drugs -- including 152.1kg of amphetamine, 21.6kg of cocaine, 26.9kg of opioids and 32.5kg of MDMA.

More than 200,000 ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methamphetamine pills were seized alongside counterfeit medicine. Europol said a number of the suspects arrested are considered "high-value targets."

US officials arrested 65 people -- the most of any country involved -- and Germany nabbed 47 others. 24 people were arrested in the UK, and others were picked up across Europe. All of the law enforcement agencies involved noted that investigations are still being conducted as they try to identify the people behind certain dark web accounts. 

The Justice Department said arrests were made of those involved in active dark web marketplaces as well as inactive ones, including Dream, WallStreet, Dark Market and White House, which shut down this month.

Italian police also disrupted the DeepSea and Berlusconi dark web marketplaces, seizing nearly $4.2 million in cryptocurrency. 

"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," Europol deputy executive director of operations Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said. 

In a press conference Tuesday morning, US Deputy Attorney General Monaco said the 10-month international law enforcement operation spanned across three continents and involved dozens of US and international law enforcement agencies "to send one clear message to those hiding on the darknet peddling illegal drugs: there is no dark internet." 

"We can, and we will shine a light," Monaco said. "Operation Dark HunTor prevented countless lives from being lost to this dangerous trade in illicit and counterfeit drugs because one pill can kill. The Department of Justice, with our international partners, will continue to crack down on lethal counterfeit opioids purchased on the DarkNet."

Law enforcement officials said the operation was a follow-up to the January takedown of DarkMarket, another widely used illegal marketplace that was disrupted earlier this year. Police in Germany arrested the leading operator and others connected to DarkMarket. 

That operation allowed authorities to seize DarkMarket's infrastructure, providing law enforcement agencies worldwide with a trove of evidence to search through. 

US officials focused their announcement on the disruption of opioid and fentanyl trafficking due to the drug's prominence in the US and a spate of recent high-profile deaths connected to drugs tainted with the deadly fentanyl.

"Today, we face new and increasingly dangerous threats as drug traffickers expand into the digital world and use the Darknet to sell dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine," DEA administrator Anne Milgram said. 

"These drug traffickers are flooding the United States with deadly, fake pills, driving the US overdose crisis, spurring violence, and threatening the safety and health of American communities. DEA's message today is clear: criminal drug networks operating on the Darknet, trying to hide from law enforcement, can no longer hide."

US Postal Inspection Service chief postal inspector Gary Barksdale noted that criminals are increasingly turning to the dark web to sell and ship narcotics and other dangerous goods around the world, "often relying on the postal system and private carriers to deliver these illegal products."

Investigators said they discovered that one of the unnamed organizations at the center of the operation was based in Houston, Texas and was involved in selling methamphetamine, counterfeit pressed Adderall, MDMA, cocaine and ketamine across the US. 

One of the DarkNet vendor accounts was run by people living in Fort Lauderdale, and another was based in Providence, Rhode Island. Agents who conducted the arrests discovered 3.5 kilograms of pressed fentanyl.

Others arrested were marketing and selling counterfeit Adderall through the mail that was simply methamphetamine. 

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