A global crackdown on illegal trade on the dark web has resulted in 288 arrests and the seizure of around €51 million in cash and virtual currency, Europol announced on Tuesday.
Authorities in nine countries have shut down the illegal “monopoly market” platform, as the suspects arrested were involved in buying or selling drugs through the portal. Most arrests were made in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, and investigators are still working to identify other people behind the dark web accounts, which means more arrests may be on the horizon.
As law enforcement authorities gained access to the sellers’ extensive buyer lists, thousands of customers around the world now risk prosecution as well, Europol says. More than €50.8 million ($55.7 million) in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kilograms of drugs and 117 firearms were seized, according to Europol.
Among the drugs seized were more than 258 kilograms of amphetamines, 43 kilograms of cocaine, 43 kilograms of MDMA, and more than 10 kilograms of LSD and ecstasy pills. The operation, codenamed SpecTor, involved coordinated actions by authorities from Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland.
This seizure followed a German police operation in 2021 designed to target dark web operators.
“Europol compiled intelligence packages based on valuable evidence provided by the German authorities,” Europol said. This information “has been used as the basis for hundreds of national investigations,” the agency added.
Arrests were made throughout the European Union, including 158 in the United Kingdom, 52 in Germany, 10 in the Netherlands and five in France; 55 people were also arrested in the United States and one person in Brazil. Some of the detained sellers “were also active in other illicit markets,” according to Europol, which stressed that some of the arrested individuals were “high-value” targets. It praised the operation for making “the trade in drugs and illicit goods on the dark web even more difficult.”
This new operation, carried out on three continents, “sends a strong message to criminals on the dark web,” said Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle, quoted in the release.
“International law enforcement has the means and the capacity to identify and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web,” she warned.
The dark web, a parallel version of the internet where users’ anonymity is generally guaranteed, has been increasingly under attack in recent years by international police. The Hydra Market, a dark web platform considered “the world’s highest-turnover illegal marketplace” with sales of €1.23 billion in 2020 alone, was dismantled in 2022. Following Hydra’s closure, German authorities seized €23 million in cryptocurrencies.
By 2021, 150 people buying or selling drugs or weapons on the dark web had been arrested worldwide as part of Operation Dark HunTOR.