A man from North Rhine-Westphalia presented new details in the government’s case against him for selling firearms on dark web markets in Germany. Although he had originally admitted to committing the crimes listed in the indictment, the man has changed his story and implicated his former wife in the alleged dark web gun trafficking operation.
The claims, although seemingly ridiculous, may have been an accurate portrayal of the operation, according to a Customs Investigator who testified at a recent appeal hearing at the Regional Court of Cologne. The man, a 33-year-old attorney from Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, had originally confessed to several violations of Germany’s Weapons and Explosives Act. Earlier this year, at the District Court Bergheim, the attorney gave the court an extensive confession and fully cooperated with the police’s investigation. “I had lost sight of real life and decided to live in the virtual criminal world,” he explained to the court at a hearing in early 2018.
Law enforcement, in 2017, launched an investigation of a user of German dark web forums. The user, according to evidence presented during early hearings, had been selling shotguns on these dark web sites under the username “Mike Bravo.” Investigators had purchased shotguns for 4,000 euros from the vendor. The vendor had also been selling other firearms, ammunition used in the shotguns, and other assorted firearms listed on the vendor’s forum profiles. At some point during the career of “Mike Bravo,” packages containing illegal weapons were intercepted by German Customs Investigators in Frankfurt, Germany.
Using an undisclosed method of investigation, German authorities connected the intercepted packages to the “Mike Bravo” vendor profile. They likely matched the firearm models “Mike Bravo” sold against the models of intercepted firearms. But, without the specific details of how that portion of the investigation was carried out, the exact methods used will remain unknown indefinitely; German law enforcement almost always seize an arrested dark web vendor’s marketplace or forum accounts in effort to catch either their suppliers or their customers. Although the majority of dark web firearm cases in Germany have involved vendors or collectors with large caches of legally purchased weapons, German authorities have been arresting even the smallest of buyers for illegally purchasing firearms or ammunition.
Most users of dark web marketplaces know that purchasing firearms, explosives, and substances intended to kill is one of the primary avenues to a swift arrest by federal law enforcement. And, after the Munich shooting, this is especially true in Germany. In this case, German Customs led the investigation. They seemingly intercept more packages than many other law enforcement agencies combined. Frankfurt Customs is one of the busiest customs offices in the world and it is the second busiest in Europe, so their constant interception of packages from dark web vendors could simply be the result of the massive number of packages that flow through the terminal every day. Regardless, after Customs Investigators had profiled “Mike Bravo,” the rest of the investigation fell into place.
German law enforcement made undercover purchases from “Mike Bravo” and pinpointed the location of the vendor’s town. With at least two more controlled purchases, law enforcement learned what specific post offices the vendor used for dropping packages of guns off and picking up packages from the supplier. The police surveilled the post offices and caught the man’s wife on camera as she dropped a package off at the mail counter. After securing a search warrant, the police searched the home of the woman they had been watching. The woman, at the time, was married to the convicted weapons vendor who is currently appealing the conviction at the Regional Court of Cologne.
The police originally arrested both the husband and wife after discovering guns and ammunition in the house that matched the items sold by “Mike Bravo.” They later released the former wife after the current defendant admitted he was solely responsible for the gun trafficking. In March 2018, the court sentenced him to two years in prison. Months after entering prison, his wife left him and took their five kids with her to live elsewhere. After the divorce was finalized, the man recanted his confession and told his attorney that he had confessed only to protect his family from any legal repercussions but that his wife had actually been running the “Mike Bravo” vendor account and selling weapons on the dark web.
Some evidence has lined up with his new statement and several hearings have been scheduled at the Regional Court of Cologne for the court to make a decision based on the information provided during the appeal hearing. The 33-year-old is fighting for an acquittal.