International Operation Closes Down Dark Web Marketplace, Arrests 288

Published: 04 May 2023

Fentanyl Red Bucket FBIDuring the police raids, a bucket containing hundreds of suspected pills was discovered by law enforcement officials. (Photo: FBI, License)

By Vinicius Madureira

Police on three continents closed during a joint operation a dark web marketplace called “Monopoly Market,” arrested 288 people suspected of having used it to buy or sell drugs and seized cash and virtual currency worth US$53.4 million.

Officers also seized 850 kg of drugs and 117 firearms, Europol said in a statement on Tuesday.

Coordinated by the EU police agency, the operation involved nine countries, including the United States, seven European nations, and Brazil.

According to the FBI Supervisory Special Agent Andrew Innocenti, the way that a darknet drug marketplace “appears on your screen looks very professionally done.” Vendor pages list what they’re selling, how much it costs, offer pictures as well as ratings from customers how fast they got their products and how much they paid for them, he explained.

“The availability of dangerous substances like fentanyl on darknet marketplaces is helping to fuel the crisis that has claimed far too many American lives,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. Deaths caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased to 71,238 in 2021, up from 57,834 in 2020.

“Most of these darknet actors, the reason they’re operating in the darknet is they don’t see it as much of a risk as if they’re doing hand-to-hand deals on the street,” said Kristen Varel, a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s High Tech Organized Crime Unit.

However, during the raids, authorities seized the criminal infrastructures of the marketplace, which will provide investigators across the world with leads and evidence to identify more individuals behind dark web accounts. Investigations are still ongoing.

Commenting on Operation SpecTor, Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said that “our coalition” proves “that we all do better when we work together.”

According to De Bolle, this operation “sends a strong message to criminals on the dark web” and it shows that “international law enforcement has the means and the ability to identify and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web.”

The arrests were made across Europe, the U.S., and Brazil, and included 153 suspects in the U.S., 55 in the U.K., 52 in Germany, 10 in the Netherlands, nine in Austria, five in France, two in Switzerland, one in Poland, and one in Brazil.

This operation is considered to be even more successful than previous ones codenamed DisrupTor (2020) and Dark HunTor (2021), with 179 and 150 arrests, respectively.