Major dark web police operation leads to 288 arrests and the seizure of drugs and weapons

In an operation coordinated by Europol and involving nine countries, law enforcement agencies seized the illegal dark web marketplace called Monopoly Market and arrested 288 suspects involved in buying or selling drugs. Police seized more than €50.8 million ($53.4 million) in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kg of drugs and 117 firearms. The drugs 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.

This operation, codenamed SpecTor, comprised a series of separate complementary actions in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland.

Europol has been compiling reports and documents based on the evidence provided by the German authorities, who lead a successful operation to seize the market’s criminal infrastructure in December 2021. These target documents, created through cross-comparison and analysis of the data and evidence collected, served as the basis for investigating hundreds of people.

The dealers arrested as a result of the police action against Monopoly Market were also active in other illicit markets, thus preventing the spread of drug and illicit goods trading on the dark web. Therefore, 288 sellers and buyers involved in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods were arrested throughout Europe, the United States and Brazil. Europol considered some of these suspects high-value targets.

Arrests were made in the United States (153), the United Kingdom (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2), Poland (1) and Brazil (1). A series of investigations to identify additional individuals behind the dark web accounts remain ongoing. As law enforcement authorities gained access to the extensive lists of buyers and sellers, thousands of customers around the world are also at risk of prosecution.

In the period running up to this coordinated operation, German and US authorities also shut down Hydra, which was the highest-grossing dark web marketplace, with estimated revenues of €1.23 billion, in April 2022. Hydra’s dismantling led to the seizure of €23 million in cryptocurrencies by German authorities.

The operation was particularly successful in terms of arrests, almost doubling previous operations codenamed DisrupTor (2020), with 179 arrests, and Dark HunTor (2021), with 150. This shows once again that international collaboration between law enforcement authorities is key for combating crime on the dark web.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre facilitated the exchange of information within the framework of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT), hosted at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. After cross-checking evidence through Europol’s databases, its analysts prepared targeting documents and cross-reports containing valuable data to identify vendors on the dark web. Europol also coordinated international police action.

Europol supports the 27 member states of the European Union in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its operational and intelligence gathering activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to make Europe a safer place.

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