At an unspecified date in “mid 2017,” the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) identified a so-called “group of darknet dealers” and needed the assistance of a special unit of the Köln (Cologne) public prosecutor’s office. They called upon the Central Contact Point for Cybercrime in North Rhine-Westphalia (ZAC NRW). The suspected darknet dealers gave investigators a case with what law enforcement believed to be an increased risk. The vendors not only sold drugs, but also dealt with a biological weapon and a highly toxic chemical used in drug synthesis and as a weapon throughout history.
The ZAC investigates pivotal cybercrime cases in Germany. As the name implies, the ZAC serves as a point of contact for law enforcement both within and outside of North Rhine-Westphalia. And as seen in this investigation, the BKA also cooperates with state public prosecutors and law enforcement through the ZAC. The ZAC—as of early 2017—consisted of seven highly skilled public prosecutors. Their skill makes them specialists in many darknet investigations and cases.
Once investigators had identified the group members—two brothers from Hamm and one man from Mölln—had gathered enough evidence to make an arrest, and had located the suspect’s houses, they moved in. They raided homes in both cities, arrested all three suspects, and seized evidence. Among that evidence was shipping containers, scales, “several liters of an unknown liquid,” and one kilogram of white powder.
The trio dealt fentanyl and carfentanil on several darknet markets and underground forums. The shipping material, drugs, and liters of liquids were discovered at the house of one of the Hamm brothers. One was 33-years-old and the other was 44-years-old. Authorities did not reveal which one owned the house with the evidence. The third suspect was a 26-year-old from Mölln. One of the three also sold toxins, authorities suspected. Again, the suspect was not revealed.
However, the alleged toxin seller sold botulinum toxin (BTX) and possessed potassium cyanide (KCN). Botulinum toxin is currently manufactured for various medical uses under the brand name “Botox,” among others. BTX is considered safe for use in humans in medical settings, but has been acknowledged as a bioterrorism weapon. Although militaries had stockpiled BTX at one point, the toxin does not seem to have been involved in any mass-murders or in a warfare setting aside from an isolated incident in Japan with no casualties due to BTX. The U.S. and Russia both gave up on weaponizing BTX as doing so proved far less effective and economical than weaponizing anthrax or smallpox. The fear, however, is the relative ease required to produce aerosol sprays.
While the seller could have intended the BTX for medical use, he is under suspicion for selling a biological weapon. At the bare minimum, he violated special trade laws required for selling BTX. Potassium cyanide needs no introduction but the group more than likely used the chemical in carfentanil production as described in the Reiff and Sollman patent. And regardless of intent with this one, at a minimum, he violated regulations under the Chemical Prohibitions Act.
One local news station wrote:
“The prosecutor’s office in Cologne is investigating the two hammers for violation of the Narcotics, War Weapons Control and the Chemicals Act. The long-drawn-out deployment began around 10 o’clock. Special forces of the GSG9 unit were also on site. The Analytical Taskforce of the Dortmund Fire Brigade was also involved to analyze chemical substances immediately.”
At the worst, the set chemicals were sold with an ulterior motive.