In the Kazakhstan cities of Almaty and Astana, the country’s National Security Committee (NSC) carried out a large-scale operation against organized crime syndicates that distributed drugs through the darknet. Not counting previously detained individuals with connections to the drug trafficking organizations, the investigation led to the arrest of 12 drug traffickers. According to the NSC, the investigation is ongoing and now directed towards darknet market drug buyers.
The action was the product of a collaboration between cybersecurity units in law enforcement and National Security Committee’s special forces. Authorities claimed they watched online drug markets for an undisclosed amount of time before taking action. During this preliminary investigation period, the country’s law enforcement and national security forces discovered “separate online stores.” The organized crime groups controlled or operated stores on a darknet market, the NSC said in their official report.
Member States in the Russian Commonwealth often use darknet “markets” that more closely resemble forums. Each vendor has their own vendor store or market where they list their products. According to the NSC report, site administrators would notify other users where, in Almaty and Astana, an order of drugs had been hidden. This business model matches nearly every Russian darknet market. The drug trafficking organizations likely operated their own sites or shops through a site similar to Rutor or the former RAMP Marketplace.
Payments to the site administrators, the NSC said, often took the form of money transfers to QIWI-wallets. For those outside Russia and the surrounding area: QIWI wallets, and specifically Visa QIWI wallets, function as prepaid online payment services. QIWI itself is roughly similar to PayPal in the financial sector. However, unlike with the majority of the markets used in the US and the UK, Russian markets and vendors often accept payment for illegal substances with this PayPal-esque financial service.
While the NSC failed to mention the specific market that the organized crime groups had created stores on, the use of QIWI payments and hidden caches of drugs pointed towards one of the Russian forums.
The joint taskforce discovered a connection between members of the crime groups and previously detained criminals. On November 3, the NSC’s special forces reported the arrest of the suspect number 12. Given the gravity of the current situation and status as an ongoing investigation, the number of arrests could change at any given time. However, the next arrests will likely involve drug buyers instead of sellers. “The necessary operational and investigative measures are continuing, including the identification of persons who used the above-mentioned sites for the acquisition of narcotic substances,” the press release read.