A gang alleged to have imported Ecstasy from the Netherlands to Britain in bulk and then sold it over the so-called Dark Web has been dismantled after a series of arrests.
Two men, aged 24 and 31, were arrested in Tyne and Wear this week as part of a ten-month operation involving Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the US Department of Homeland Security which has so far seized drugs worth more than £4m, including 90kg of MDMA or Ecstasy and 134kg of amphetamine.
The arrest and search operation, which also targeted addresses in Surrey, was the latest arising from the success of law enforcement agencies around the world in breaking into EncroChat, the encrypted phone network which had become a favoured way for organised crime gangs to communicate and establish international connections.
The NCA said its raids had helped to disrupt a trans-national operation which was allegedly sourcing Ecstasy from Netherlands, the world’s largest producer of MDMA, and then selling it onwards from the UK via the Dark Web under account names such as HundredsUK, Hundredsandthousands and Sundaefundae.
The Dark Web refers to the substantial section of the internet which cannot be accessed via conventional search engines and requires the use of an anonymised encrypted browser. It is favoured by criminals as a way of conducting offences from selling drugs to circulating child pornography.
British investigators subsequently intercepted packages allegedly containing Ecsctasy being sent to addresses in the United States, Israel, Norway, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia as well as customers in the UK.
Martin Clarke, operations manager at the NCA, said: “This action against an organised crime group supplying drugs via the Dark Web has dimantled a well-established operation. We have worked closely with partners in the US to target the individuals involved, who are ultimately preying on the vulnerable and destroying communities.
“This investigation shows that those who try to use the Dark Web and encrypted communication devices to anonymously commit crimes can be identified.”
The NCA said it had seized drugs worth £4.3m since its investigations began last June and had traced individuals alleged to have been supplying drugs and laundering proceeds via cryptocurrencies.
A 24-year-old man arrested in South Shields and a 31-year-old-man arrested in Hebburn remained in custody on suspicion of importing drugs. A further two men from South Shields, who are believed to be abroad, are still being sought.
Mubinar Rahman, 25, from South Shields, is due to be sentenced later this month after he admitted his role in the gang by posting more than 100 packages of drugs.