By MIKE CORDER
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Law enforcement agencies around the world seized an online marketplace and arrested nearly 300 people allegedly involved in buying and selling drugs, European Union law enforcement agency Europol said Tuesday.
The worldwide operation targeting the “Monopoly Market,” coordinated by Europol, is the latest major takedown of sales platforms for drugs and other illicit goods on the so-called dark web, a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools.
“Our coalition of law enforcement authorities across three continents proves that we all do better when we work together,” Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said in a statement. “This operation sends a strong message to criminals on the dark web: International law enforcement has the means and the ability to identify and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web.”
Europol said that 288 suspects were arrested and more than 50.8 million euros ($53.4 million) in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kilograms of drugs, and 117 firearms were seized in a series of raids in several countries.
In the Netherlands, where authorities arrested 10 suspects, police said the operation was made up of “separate but complementary actions that took place in nine countries over the past 18 months.”
The Dutch national police’s Cyber Enabled Crime Team was involved in the operation, codenamed SpecTor.
“The intelligence that Europol shared with us, such as transaction data and virtual currency addresses, helped us to start new investigations and to enrich existing investigations. In this way we have identified and apprehended a number of important Dutch sellers,” said the Dutch team’s leader, Nan van de Coevering. “The success of this operation again shows that international cooperation is essential in combating crime on the dark web.”
The seized drugs include over 258 kilograms (569 pounds) of amphetamines; 43 kilograms (95 pounds) of cocaine; 43 kilogram (95 pounds) of MDMA; and over 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of LSD and ecstasy pills, the agency said.
The largest number of arrests — 153 — were made in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom with 55 and Germany with 52, Europol said.
“A number of investigations to identify additional individuals behind dark web accounts are still ongoing,” Europol said. “As law enforcement authorities gained access to the vendors’ extensive buyer lists, thousands of customers across the globe are now at risk of prosecution as well.”
The agency, based in The Hague, built intelligence based on evidence from Germany, which it said seized the marketplace’s “criminal infrastructure” in December 2021.
Leading up to the operation announced Tuesday, German and U.S. authorities took down the “ Hydra ” dark web market in April last year.