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Police arrest 150 'high value' darknet vendors

October 26, 2021

After taking down a darknet market in January, investigators have now detained 150 "high value" targets. Dozens of those arrested were based in Germany.

Europol headquarters
Europol is the EU's law enforcement agency and is based in The HagueImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

Police around the world have arrested 150 suspects involved in trading illegal goods online in a major Europol investigation, someone with inside knowledge of the operation told DW.

The 10-month Operation Dark HunTOR targeted vendors who operated on the DarkMarket site, which was taken down by police in January, the insider told DW.

German prosecutors at the time said DarkMarket came to the fore during a major investigation against the web hosting service Cyberbunker, located in a former NATO bunker in southwest Germany.

Since then, investigators have worked to unmask people who sold illegal goods on the site, culminating in Tuesday's bust. 

The police raids — which reportedly took place in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — resulted in the arrest of "high-value targets."

Dozens arrested in Germany

Of those detained, 47 were in Germany, 65 in the United States and 24 were in the United Kingdom. Several individuals were also held in Bulgaria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Darknet marketplaces allow drug vendors to sell and ship their goods in supposed security. In the past, investigators have managed to take down the operators of such sites, but catching vendors has proven to be more tricky.

At a news conference in Washington, authorities said the pandemic had caused more of the trade in illegal drugs to move online.

The AFP news agency reported that law agents also confiscated €26.7 million ($31 million) in cash and virtual currencies, as well as 45 guns and 234 kilograms (516 pounds) of drugs, including 25,000 ecstasy pills.

US officials said a lot of the drugs sold on the darknet were prescription drugs such as Adderall, Xanax and OxyContin. However, many of the pills were laced with other dangerous substances like fentanyl or methamphetamine.

Lisa Monaco, the US deputy attorney general, said over 200,000 pills or 90% of those confiscated by the US contained "counterfeit opioids or other narcotics" such as fentanyl.

The US Justice Department said a large operation took place in Houston, Texas, where anonymous orders placed online were shipped to customers across the country through the postal service.

In Washington, Europol deputy director of operations said those arrested were "among the most prolific or sensitive actors on the dark web."

The story of a German con man

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk