New Zealander authorities announced the arrest of 13 individuals who were arrested in a nationwide police operation. The suspects are facing drug-related charges. All of the cases against the defendants are related to the dark web narcotic trade.
On August 4, Detective Sergeant Tim Williams of the Waitemata Police informed the public in a press release about the arrest of the 13 suspects. According to him, the police action, named Operation Tiger, was a result of a previous action – Operation Hyperion. Hyperion was initiated by U.S. law enforcement authorities at the end of 2016, in which numerous countries participated, including New Zealand. During October 22 and 28, New Zealander authorities allegedly identified approximately 300 people who were involved in the dark web drug trade. At the time, the police sent out 66 formal warnings and questioned 160 people who were allegedly connected to the case. Law enforcement only arrested two persons, one is a 22-year-old man who was the alleged administrator of the now closed Vic Underworld (or NZ Underworld) darknet marketplace. While the website was running, users could purchase a whole variety of narcotics, including party drugs, painkillers, and fake doctor prescriptions.
Now, it seems that the Waitemata Police worked from the list of identified persons and used it to arrest and charge the 13 individuals in the case. According to the New Zealander law enforcement, investigators were able to seize a wide variety of drugs in the raids and customs interceptions associated with Operation Tiger. The police did not release the precise quantity of the narcotics, however, authorities claimed the combined total street value of the substances is over $500,000. The seized drugs include MDMA, cannabis, methamphetamine, LSD, GBL, cocaine and amphetamine. Investigators also confiscated a firearm, $222,000 of cash and a property of one suspect.
According to the police press release, the dual-agency operation, which was in progress over the past six months, focused on dark web users who imported Class A and Class B drugs from overseas countries through international mail. Operation Tiger was conducted in cooperation between several authorities, including the Waitemata Police Tactical Crime Team and the New Zealand Customs.
“Buyers may think small quantities of drugs don’t matter and Customs won’t do anything, but every seizure helps us and our partners build the intelligence picture, so it’s not a matter of if they are caught, it’s when. Even if drugs are bought under the guise of the dark web’s anonymity, it is not difficult to link packages to people,” Customs Intelligence Manager, Wei-Jiat Tan said.
The suspects arrested in the case were aged between 19 and 59. The defendants are facing a total of 79 charges, most of them related to the importation, possession or supply of Class A and Class B drugs. The Waitemata Police stated that 12 of the 13 suspects have already appeared “in either the Waitakere, North Shore of Auckland District Courts.”
“Customs and Police are actively targeting opportunists that use the darknet, and investigations such as Operation Tiger shows how small seizures are resulting in greater drug supply disruption in the communities,” Mr. Tan said.
Head of the operation, Detective Sergeant Tim Williams, appreciated the good results of the police action and the cooperation of the agencies. According to Mr. Williams, the reason why so many people are using the dark web to purchase narcotics is the “perception” that they remain anonymous and undetected while doing so. He added that no matter the methods and techniques used in the importation and concealing of the narcotics, the police and the customs “will catch” the offenders.
“We want drug importers to know that the risk far outweighs the gain. It is only a matter of time before Police or Customs will come knocking on your door and you will be facing serious drugs charges,” Detective Sergeant Williams said.
Mr. Williams added that Operation Tiger was not just an opportunity to identify, arrest and prosecute those who imported illegal substances to New Zealand, but there is also a chance to law enforcement to “prevent further social harm from young people becoming drug users and addicts through the supply of these drugs from importers.”