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The sentences being handed down to dark web drug dealers are cruelly disproportionate

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dark web drug dealers

Despite last year’s high-profile takedowns of hidden illicit marketplaces Hansa and AlphaBay, the dark web drug trade continues to thrive. Almost as soon as one site is knocked offline, vendors are quickly able to migrate to surviving rivals or new challengers that have managed to stay one step ahead of global law enforcement authorities. Much as they have for decades now with the traditional illicit drug market, police forces around the world are fighting a losing battle to stem the availability of illegal substances online, as more drug users get wise to the added safety, convenience and heightened guarantee of quality that dark web vendors are perceived to offer. Clearly conscious of the fact they are on the back foot when it comes to blocking the new sales channels technology has opened up for drug dealers, western courts now appear bent on handing down draconian sentences to those caught running hidden illicit marketplaces or the vendors who use them as platforms from which to sell drugs.

In the absence of a regulated market, proponents of the dark web drug trade argue that buying illegal substances online has made drug consumption much less risky. Buying drugs online means users no longer have to purchase their substance of choice from criminals on street corners, reducing the chances they will be robbed or exposed to violence. Although they are open to abuse, eBay-style feedback systems run by dark web marketplaces offer buyers an opportunity to read the thoughts of dealers’ past customers. While increased competition among vendors has led to worries over the increasing strength of some substances being offered online, dark web drug dealers’ focus on reputation is generally accepted to have led to a rise in the quality of narcotics available on the internet. Dark web drug marketplaces also offer users the opportunity to discuss their substance consumption in forums, allowing them to exchange advice on how to take their drug of choice in as safe a manner as possible. But regardless of all this, those convicted of offences linked to the sale of drugs on hidden illicit marketplaces are in some cases being handed jail terms that most right-mined people would accept are wholly disproportionate to the nature of the crime they have committed, if only in relation to other types of offences at a similar level.

Last month, the leader of a UK dark web drug dealing gang was jailed for 15 years and three months after being convicted of selling illegal substances worth £800,000 ($1.14 million) on the now-closed Silk Road website. Associates of Basil Assaf, 26, were imprisoned for between seven and 12 years. Days earlier, three members of an Albanian drugs gang were sentenced to a total of 16 years between them by a London court after being convicted of trafficking cocaine estimated to be worth more than £4 million. Also in March, a paedophile Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for sexually abusing three young girls. In the US, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is serving a life jail term with no chance of parole, having been handed a sentence that the judge in his trial said was intended to serve as a deterrent to would-be online drug peddlers tempted to follow in  his footsteps. Far from having the intended chilling effect on aspiring dark web narcotics barons the judge intended, a study published by the British Journal of Criminology last summer revealed that Ulbricht’s sentence appeared to have had no downward impact on dark web drug sales at all, and that the sale of narcotics on hidden illicit marketplaces had in fact more than doubled in the two years since his jailing.

Few would argue that dark web drug dealers should face no punishment at all if and when they are caught, but it seems unjust to condemn them to wildly disproportionate jail terms simply because law enforcement authorities are unable to get a grip on the manner in which they are revolutionising the drug trade. While it might be something of a stretch to suggest that those convicted of crimes linked to the sale of drugs online should receive some leniency for their part in making the trade in narcotics safer for users, it should certainly be the case that they face a punishment no more severe than offenders who have been found guilty of comparable or more serious charges. Even the most hard-headed of anti-drug campaigners must surely submit that a person offering a service that users avail themselves of freely should not be treated by our justice systems in a similar fashion to those who sexually exploit children, murder or commit acts of terrorism. The fact that dark web drug dealers are being treated so harshly is yet another sign of how spectacularly the war on drugs has failed.

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road dark web marketplace

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road

A jobless university drop-out from the UK city of Liverpool has been jailed after being convicted of running the Silk Road 2.0 dark web marketplace while collecting indecent images of children.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Thomas White, 24, helped run the original Silk Road marketplace until it was closed down by FBI investigators in 2013.

Within a month of its shutdown, White had launched Silk Road 2.0, which like its predecessor was used by vendors to offer illicit items including drugs, weapons, cyber crime tools and stolen credit card details on the dark web.

White, who abandoned his accounting degree at Liverpool John Moores University after just one term, rented a £1,700 ($2,225)-a-month apartment on the waterfront in Liverpool city centre at the time of his arrest, despite ostensibly being unemployed.

While investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said they could not be sure how much money White made while operating Silk Road 2.0, it is estimated that illegal goods worth some $96 million were sold on the platform, on which he would take a commission of between 1% and 5%.

During a raid on White’s apartment, police discovered a laptop computer under his bed, which was found to contain 464 indecent images of children in the most serious category.

It later emerged that White had discussed setting up a hidden website on which to publish child abuse material during an online chat with a Silk Road 2.0 administrator.

Like Ross Ulbricht, who was jailed for life with no parole for running the original Silk Road marketplace in 2015, White used the online alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to a fictional character in the novel the Princess Bride by William Goldman.

White was sentenced to more than five years behind bars.

Speaking after he was jailed, Ian Glover from the NCA said: “White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy.

“He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down.

“We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation.”

Separately, one of Britain’s most senior cyber detectives has warned that Europeans gangs are targeting autistic gamers in the hope of turning them into the next generation of hackers.

Peter Goodman, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for cyber crime, told the Press Association that more than eight out of 10 (82%) of young people being enlisted by online criminals develop skills while gaming, with many of those targeted on the autistic spectrum.

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Customs authorities in China seize record 7.5 tonnes of ivory as wildlife crime crackdown continues

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customs authorities in China seize record 7.5 tonnes of ivory

The Chinese government yesterday announced that customs officers had seized nearly 7.5 tonnes of ivory in one of the largest such discoveries in recent years.

According to China’s customs administration, which is currently conducting a crackdown on wildlife-related crime, the elephant tusks were confiscated as a result of an operation targeting an international organised crime gang that had been involved in the illicit ivory trade for a number of years

Investigators are reported to have arrested 26 suspected members of the smuggling network behind the conspiracy after the ivory was found stored in a number of boxes that were being stored in a discussed factory in a remote town in the eastern province of Anhui last month.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, officials said the seizure was made up of 2,748 elephant tusks.

The ivory is said to have been trafficked into the country from Africa in containers labelled as carrying wood.

Addressing reporters, Deputy Director General of China Customs Hu Wei said his officers have investigated 182 cases of wildlife trafficking so far this year.

He added that these operations resulted in the disruption of 27 organised criminal networks, the arrest of 171 suspected wildlife traffickers, as well as the seizure of more than 500 tonnes of smuggled illicit wildlife products, including nearly 8.5 tonnes of ivory.

Commending the Chinese government on the seizure, TRAFFIC, and NGO that monitors wildlife crime across the globe, said in a statement: “[We congratulate] Customs on their successful enforcement actions, which send a firm signal that trafficking of endangered species will not be tolerated.

“TRAFFIC also encourages the authorities to ensure full and thorough investigations are carried out and offers its assistance in efforts to clampdown on the persistent trafficking of ivory and other endangered species, and in the longer-term goal of changing consumer behaviour and reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products.”

China, which is the largest importer of elephant tusks on the planet, banned the sale of ivory in 2017.

As in some other Asian countries, ivory remains popular in China, where it is used in traditional medicines and is seen as a status symbol.

Back in February, a Chinese woman nicknamed the “Ivory Queen” was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in Tanzania after she was convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks to her country of birth.

Yang Fenglan, then aged 69, is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million, in what was described at the time as one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa.

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Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member jailed for smuggling 2.5kgs of high-purity heroin into Australia

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Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member jailed

A flight attendant who worked for Malaysia Airlines has been jailed for more than five years after being caught attempting to smuggle packages of heroin into Australia.

In what a judge described as a “clumsily executed” operation, Fariq Aqbal Omar boarded a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne in May last year while carrying 2.5kgs of high-purity heroin.

The drugs were estimated to have a street value of more than A$3 million ($2.2 million).

After the flight on which he was travelling landed in Melbourne, large bulges visible underneath Omar’s clothing attracted the attention of customs officers.

Observing the 34-year-old Malaysian national using security cameras, border guards watched him visit a bathroom after alighting from his flight.

While using the facilities, he decanted the 10 blocks of pure heroin that had been stuffed inside his trouser pockets and underneath his vest into a suitcase, before exiting the airport terminal and boarding a transfer bus with other cabin crew members.

All of the flight attendants were then asked to return to the terminal building with their luggage to be searched, at which point Omar attempted to remove the drugs from his suitcase and return them to his pockets.

When investigators found the packages, Omar told them he believed they contained illegal tobacco, but later pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, claiming he was paid just A$500 to smuggle the heroin into Australia by a former colleague and another man.

Jailing Omar for five years and six months, Judge Wendy Wilmoth said it was incomprehensible that he had been persuaded to participate in the poorly thought-through smuggling attempt for such a small sum of money.

“Your actions have resulted in a very significant fall for you,” Australian broadcaster ABC News quotes Wilmoth as saying.

“This is something you should have considered before the importation.”

Omar will be eligible for parole after serving three years behind bars.

His lawyer, Thomas Mathew, told the New Straits Times: “Due to his limited involvement in the syndicate and minimum knowledge of its operations, our client’s role was at the very lowest of the range of the offences of this kind.

“Given his impeccable previous character, lack of prior offences in any country and the increased hardship that his imprisonment would involve due to the hardship his family are going through, the defence has sought the lowest sentence possible in the circumstances.”

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