Police operation ‘SpecTor’ arrests 288 dark web drug vendors and buyers

Police arresting a person

An international law enforcement operation codenamed ‘SpecTor’ has arrested 288 dark web vendors and customers worldwide, with police seizing €50.8 million ($55.9M) in cash and cryptocurrency.

The vendors were active on a marketplace known as ‘Monopoly Market’ that sold drugs to customers worldwide in exchange for Bitcoin and Monero cryptocurrency.

Monopoly Market was launched in 2019 but was later seized by law enforcement in December 2021.

While some believed that law enforcement seized the site at the time, others speculated that it was an exit scam, where the owners were stealing cryptocurrency deposited on the site.

However, Europol confirmed for the first time today that Monopoly Market had been seized by German authorities in 2021 and used to collect evidence on the vendors and customers who bought and sold drugs on the site.

“Europol has been compiling intelligence packages based on troves of evidence provided by German authorities, who successfully seized the marketplace’s criminal infrastructure in December 2021,” reads Europol’s public notice.

“These target packages, created by cross-matching and analyzing the collected data and evidence, served as the basis for hundreds of national investigations.”

“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.”

Operation ‘SpecTor’ used the collected evidence to target high-volume vendors and buyers of darknet marketplaces who sold drugs and firearms to other users in exchange for cryptocurrency.

As part of this operation, law enforcement agencies also confiscated 850 kilograms (1,874 lbs) of drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, LSD, ecstasy, and 117 firearms.

Operation 'SpecTor' overviewOperation ‘SpecTor’ overview (Europol)

Most of the arrested vendors and buyers, who Europol says engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods, resided in the U.S. (153), the United Kingdom (55), and Germany (52), while the Netherlands and Austria also counted 10 and 9 arrests respectively.

The recent law enforcement operation was coordinated by Europol and the FBI, and involved police in the UK, France, Poland, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The arrests make ‘SpecTor’ more successful than previous operations like ‘DisrupTor’ in 2020, which had 179 arrests, and ‘Dark HunTor’ in 2021, which resulted in busting 150 darknet vendors.

Roughly a year ago, the German police, in coordination with U.S. authorities, shut down the world’s largest darknet market dedicated to selling drugs, named ‘Hydra,’ also seizing €23 million worth of cryptocurrency.

Update 5/3 – The FBI has published more details about operation SpecTor on its news portal, and the U.S. Department of Justice has disclosed the names and sentences of some of the arrested individuals.


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