Undercover Investigation into Illegal Marketplaces on the Internet
February 12, 2014 – National Office
Following an investigation into criminal marketplaces on the Internet, the police arrested five men on Tuesday, including one detainee. On anonymous, deeply hidden websites, drugs and firearms were being sold. With the permission of the Public Ministry, undercover agents purchased said items on several occasions over the past few months, and even received a down payment to commit an assassination.
In Enschede, the police arrested two men (aged 30 and 31 respectively), who are suspected of drug and arms trafficking on anonymous online marketplaces. These arrestsconnect to Black Market Reloaded and Utopia, two “Tor” websites on which drugs and other illegal goods were dealt. The third suspect, a 29-year-old man from Utrecht, was probably involved in other black market places as well.
Black Market Reloaded went offline late last year after receiving a rather large influx of visitors. This sudden increase occurred in October, when the FBI took the website Silk Road offline, which had previously been one of Black Market Reloaded’s strongest competitors.
The Dutch suspects controlled a self-owned black marketplace under the name Utopia. The servers on which this website ran were seized yesterday after being found in the German Bochum and Düsseldorf. After taking the website offline, police left a visiting card stating that the hidden service had been confiscated.
The German Federal Criminal Office also arrested a 21-year-old man on Tuesday in Bad Nauheim who is suspected of trafficking narcotics and weapons online. The man offered not only hard drugs, but ammunition and stolen credit/debit cards as well.
A 46-year-old Dutch suspect had already been arrested in October of 2013 when he was on his way to Germany with 1.5 kilos hashish, over 40 grams of cocaine, three kilograms of amphetamines, and about 1.5 kilos of Ecstasy pills. The man was re-arrested in his cell today for being engaged in illegal Internet trade and attempting to incite murder.
The police investigation, codenamed Commodore, was launched in early 2013, due to signs of drug trafficking on the Internet through anonymous and deeply hidden “Tor” websites. There was thought to be a large-scale drug trafficking operation and other illegal goods and services being sold through these online marketplaces.
The “Tor” network makes it possible to surf the web anonymously without leaving any traces. Illegal marketplaces within the “Tor” environment make it possible to obtain illegal goods, services, and information, and have them sent and delivered worldwide by the postal service.
The illegal and highly accessible nature of these websites, on which it is possible to make digital payments using bitcoins, makes them very difficult to monitor and creates a serious distortion of legal order. However, the Commodore investigation is a clear message to anyone thinking they can commit crimes usingdigital anonymity: even within the anonymous “Tor” environment, nobody is unassailable. The investigation and prosecution of these criminal offenses are high priority for the police, as well as the Public Ministry.
Using undercover agents, the police managed to make contact with the suspects. The agents were able to very easily buy narcotics and firearms from said marketplaces. Thousands of Ecstasy pills, raw diced MDMA, and dozens of grams of cocaine were exchanged. The undercover agents were also assured they would be able to buy cocaine by the kilo in the future.
To the astonishment of the police and the Public Ministry, the undercover agents were also asked to “bring someone to the other world”. The target would have to be extorted and murdered. This initialdigital contact led to a meeting, where a down payment was made.
During the searches of the suspects’ homes, computers, multiple data carriers (such as external hard drives and USB sticks), and about 900 bitcoins(with an estimated value of between 400,000 and 600,000 euros) were seized. The suspects arrested in the Netherlands will be brought before a judge on Friday in Utrecht. The National Prosecutor has requested for the German suspect to be released to the Netherlands for trial.