An international law enforcement operation has resulted in the arrest of 288 vendors who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking on the dark web, adding to a long list of criminal enterprises that have been shuttered in recent years.
The effort, codenamed Operation SpecTor, also saw the authorities confiscating more than $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kg of drugs, and 117 firearms.
The largest number of arrests were made in the U.S. (153), followed by the U.K. (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2), Poland (1), and Brazil (1).
"This represents the most funds seized and the highest number of arrests in any coordinated international action," U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said. "The drug traffickers are confident that, by operating anonymously on the dark web, they can operate outside the bounds of the law. They are wrong."
The arrests stem from evidence gathered after the takedown of the Monopoly marketplace by German authorities in December 2021. DarkDotFail, in early January 2022, revealed that the criminal bazaar's servers were likely seized by law enforcement, although there was no official announcement.
"The vendors arrested as a result of the police action against Monopoly Market were also active on other illicit marketplaces, further impeding the trade of drugs and illicit goods on the dark web," Europol said in a statement.
"As a result, 288 vendors and buyers who engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods were arrested across Europe, the United States, and Brazil."
Europol said a number of these apprehended individuals were considered as high-value targets, adding law enforcement agencies gained access to the vendors' extensive buyer lists, potentially exposing "thousands of customers" who are now at risk of prosecution.
Operation SpecTor is a successor to DisrupTor and DarkHunTor, which led to the arrest of 329 alleged suspects in 2020 and 2021 for buying, selling, and coordinating the sale of outlawed goods across underground marketplaces and shops.
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The development also comes as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Police of Ukraine seized nine virtual currency exchanges for knowingly offering cryptocurrency conversion services to criminal actors responsible for ransomware and other scams.
"These nine seized domains, 24xbtc.com, 100btc.pro, pridechange.com, 101crypta.com, uxbtc.com, trust-exchange.org, bitcoin24.exchange, paybtc.pro, and owl.gold offered anonymous cryptocurrency exchange services to website visitors," the Justice Department said.
The dismantling is part of a broader effort undertaken by governments in Europe and the U.S. to target infrastructure used by malicious actors to launder illegal proceeds and obscure the money trails.