More than £5m in cash and ‘virtual currencies’, as well as drugs and guns have been seized as part of a coordinated world-wide police operation to clamp down on dark web marketplaces.

Across Europe and the US, some 179 people were arrested, 1,102lb of drugs and 64 guns were confiscated as part of operation ‘DisrupTor’, a joint effort between the US Department of Justice and Europol.

Of those arrested, 119 were based in the US, two in Canada, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the UK, three in Austria and one in Sweden. It is believed the criminals engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods and services across the US and Europe.

The operation saw the seizure of multiple drug types including fentanyl, oxycodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and MDMA.

“With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, we recognise that [this] announcement is important and timely,” said FBI director Christopher Wray.

Edvardas Sileris, head of Europol’s cyber-crime centre added that the operation ends the “golden age” of underground marketplaces.  

“Law enforcement is most effective when working together, and this announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden and your anonymous activity is not anonymous”, he added.

The news comes as UK authorities warn of a worrying rise in the number of drug-related hospitalisations and deaths, linked to an increase in online sales of illicit prescription drugs. 

It’s believed the mental health effects of lockdown and the restrictions it has placed on the availability of vital drugs services has played a huge role in people self-diagnosing and turning to drugs with unknown purities. 

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