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Over 100 Jailed in International Darknet Narcotics Sting

October 26, 2021 by Reece Nations
Over 100 Jailed in International Darknet Narcotics Sting
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The Department of Justice’s Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement in tandem with the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation on Tuesday announced the culmination of the agencies’ efforts to disrupt opioid trafficking on the darknet.

The international law enforcement operation, known as “Operation Dark HunTor,” was conducted across the United States, Australia, and Europe, and led to the arrests of 150 alleged darknet drug traffickers and the seizure of around 234 kilograms of drugs, 45 firearms and over $31.6 million in both cash and virtual currencies. Operation Dark HunTor was a continuation of similar international law enforcement operations targeting darknet drug traffickers from both this year and last, according to the Justice Department.

“This 10-month massive international law enforcement operation spanned across three continents and involved dozens of U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to send one clear message to those hiding on the darknet peddling illegal drugs: there is no dark internet,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a written statement. 

“We can and we will shine a light. 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.”

Domestic and international law enforcement agencies identified darknet drug vendors and buyers through previous criminal operations, resulting in arrests in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the U.S. and Italian law enforcement agents also shut down a pair of dark web marketplaces boasting over 40,000 advertisements of illicit products leading to the arrests of four alleged administrators and €3.6 million in cryptocurrencies seized in separate but jointly coordinated U.S.-Italian operations.

In total, Operation Dark HunTor led to the seizure of around 152 kilograms of amphetamine, 22 kilograms of cocaine, 27 kilograms of opioids, 33 kilograms of MDMA, and more than 200,000 pills of ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine and counterfeit medicine. Additionally, the operation led to the arrests of 65 criminal actors in the U.S., 47 in Germany, 24 in the U.K., four in the Netherlands and Italy, three in France, two in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria, although more could still be added as investigations are ongoing.

“The men and women of the department’s Criminal Division, in close collaboration with our team of interagency and international partners, stand ready to leverage all our resources to protect our communities through the pursuit of those who profit from addiction, under the false belief that they are anonymous on the darknet,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a written statement. “Only through a whole of government and, in this case, global approach to tackling cyber-enabled drug trafficking can we hope to achieve the significant results illustrated in Operation Dark HunTor.”

Darknet vendors were also identified selling illicit goods on inactive marketplaces such as “Dream, WallStreet, White House, DeepSea, and Dark Market,” Justice Department officials announced in a release. Operation Dark HunTor built on actions taken by law enforcement in Jan. 2021 in the “DarkMarket” takedown and last year’s “Operation DisrupTor.”

Criminal groups in 16 countries were targeted in a similar international sting operation in June, TWN previously reported. In that case, criminal actors were targeted for years under the guise of a secure smartphone-based messaging application known as “ANOM,” leading to over 800 arrests and the seizure of over eight tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, two tons of synthetic drugs, six tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.

“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,” Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a written statement. 

“These drug traffickers are flooding the United States with deadly, fake pills driving the U.S. 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. DEA, the U.S. interagency, and our valued international partners, are committed to dismantling drug networks wherever they are, including on the darknet.” 

Reece can be reached at [email protected]

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