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.
Police in Ohio arrest 104 people in major crackdown on sex trafficking
Undercover police in Ohio have arrested 104 people in an operation targeting the perpetrators of sex trafficking across the US state.
The three-day effort, which involved officials from more than 30 law enforcement agencies and social service organisations, resulted in 53 felony arrests, and 26 detentions relating to crimes committed against children.
In a statement, the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said a portion of the operation focussed specifically on those seeking to engage in sexual activity with individuals they believed to be children.
“You don’t know when a man buys sex whether it’s genuine consent or, rather, the victim is being forced with a baseball bat, a knife or the next hit of heroin,” Yost said.
“When you hear a man talking about buying sex, he never says, ‘I’m buying a woman’.
“He talks about a whore, a slut, a piece – and that’s because saying what is really happening is too close to the truth for them to handle. People who think and talk like that know in their heart of hearts – it’s slavery.”
Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Director James Mackey said that one of the most effective ways to combat human trafficking is to go after the buyers of sex, without whom human traffikerrs would have no business.
The effort involved undercover police officers carrying out sting operations on the buyers of sexual services in a bid to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that US authorities are investigating a trio of websites over allegations they may have been used to facilitate human trafficking, prostitution and money laundering.
The probe into EroticMonkey.ch, Eros.com and RubMaps.ch comes more than a year after the closure of Backpage.com, a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking.
In April of last year, US authorities charged Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.
It was reported at the time that the website had made it owners in excess of $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work, with profits laundered through non-related businesses.
The US National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by charity Polaris, saw reports of trafficking cases rise by 25% between 2017 and last year.
Nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, of which 7,859 were sex trafficking related, according to Polaris.
Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader who evaded capture for years
Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has revealed that police in the Philippines have arrested a major illicit wildlife trader who had evaded authorities in the country for a number of years.
A joint “buy-bust operation” conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division (NBI-EnCD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Philippine Operation Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (DENR-POGI) resulted in the detention of the man, who is said to have had traded wildlife online without the required permits.
As well as arresting the trader, investigators seized several animals, including three Peregrine Falcons, two Eclectus Parrots, six African Spurred Tortoises and two Green Iguanas.
The man, who the NBI had been pursuing for three years, is reported to have gone to great lengths to avoid capture, cancelling deals with online customers if he became suspicious that they might be linked to law enforcement authorities.
Trading wildlife online since 2014, the man would refuse to meet his customers in person, and only dealt with those whom he had developed long term relationships.
He is now expected to face a range of charges relating to the possession and trading of wildlife products that carry a maximum jail term of four years and a fine of up to PHP300,000 ($843).
Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s Director for Southeast Asia, commented: “Catching illegal online traders is like trying to snatch shadows, so this is a big win for the Philippine authorities, and we congratulate them.
“This case should also serve as motivation for all Southeast Asian wildlife enforcement agencies that are grappling with the scourge of online wildlife trafficking.
“Persistence does pay off. Traffic hopes this case will make others think twice about trading wildlife online illegally.”
In August, Traffic published a report that highlighted the role the internet plays in the illicit trade in wildlife products.
The study, which focussed on China’s experiences of attempting to crack down on the online sale of such items, examined the policies and measures used to address wildlife cybercrime in the EU, Kenya, the US, and several key international associations.
“Due to the transnational nature of illegal wildlife trade, efforts to combat it on the internet should not be limited to China and its cyberspace,” the report said.
“As early as 2013, monitoring of online advertising of illegal ivory products targeted at EU countries revealed illegal ivory advertisements and online auctions of ivory worth more than a €1 million $1.12 million) in 10 EU countries.
“In recent years, more cases of illegal wildlife trade online have been reported around the world. These new features raise new challenges in enhancing law enforcement.
“Preliminary research published by INTERPOL in June 2017 also revealed that illicit wildlife trade is ‘infiltrating’ into the dark net.”
Farmer jailed for smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia
A farmer has been jailed for risking the biosecurity of Australia by smuggling garlic into the country from locations including the US, Canada and France.
Letetia Anne Ware, 53, was handed an 11-month prison term after being convicted of illegally importing more than 2,000 garlic bulbs into the country in contravention of Australia’s strict biosecurity rules.
The importation of garlic into Australia is tightly regulated owing to the fact that some varieties of the plant can carry the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, which is considered to be one of the gravest threats to flora biodiversity in the country.
In order to be brought into Australia legitimately, shipments of garlic must be managed by licensed importers, and accompanied with official certification that proves they are free from pests and diseases.
Ware, who stepped down from her role as the Chair of the Australian Garlic industry Association (AGIA) after pleading guilty to the crime of which she was convicted, is said to have used numerous eBay accounts to order shipments of garlic from France, South Korea, Canada and the US.
Over an 18-month period, Ware imported a total of 21 consignments of garlic, on occasion telling exporters to mislabel the contents of packages as “office supplies” to avoid the attention of customs inspectors.
Hobart Supreme Court was told that Ware was fully aware of the rules relating to the biosecurity threat posed by the garlic she smuggled into the country as she had previously held an import licence for mushrooms.
She will be eligible for parole after two months, provided she hands over a A$2,000 ($1,337) fine.
The maximum penalty for illegally importing garlic into Australia is 10 years behind bars and a fine of up to A$300,000.
In a statement, the AGIA said: “The board strongly condemns any behaviour that jeopardises biosecurity or the Australian agricultural industry
“We ask for the patience and support of all our members and urge them not to contribute or participate in the ongoing perception that the AGIA board or Association were in anyway connected, or knew of, Letetia’s illegal activities…
“We understand that many garlic growers are concerned for the safety of their own crops, and can take some level of relief that Justice Gleeson found that this imported garlic was not diseased.”
Director of pig farm GR Pork Torben Soerensen and the company’s breeding manager Henning Laue were jailed for a minimum of 18 months and eight months respectively at Perth District Court.
- Police in Ohio arrest 104 people in major crackdown on sex trafficking
- Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader who evaded capture for years
- Farmer jailed for smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia
- LAX customs officers seize bogus NBA rings that would have been worth $560,000 if genuine
- California man jailed for soliciting murder of stepmother on dark web
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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