by Justin Huggler in Berlin
The world’s second largest criminal online market has been shut down following a major international police investigation, German prosecutors announced on Friday.
Three men have been arrested in Germany on suspicion of operating “Wall Street Market”, a Darknet website used to sell cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs, as well as stolen data, forged documents and computer malware.
More than 63,000 different items were advertised for sale on the website, which had more than 1m customer accounts and 5,400 regsitered sellers.
Following the German arrests two suspected major drug traffickers believed to have used the website have been held in Los Angeles, US prosecutors said.
The arrests and shutdown of the website followed an intensive joint investigation by German, Dutch and US police forces, aided by the European Union’s Europol law enforcement agency.
“This was exemplary cooperation in the fight against digital crime,” Holger Münch, the head of the German CID told a joint press conference in Wiesbaden.
“The charges filed in Germany and the United States will significantly disrupt the illegal sale of goods on the Darknet,” Ryan White, a US federal prosecutor, said.
The “Wall Street Market” website had been running for two years. It was part of the Darknet, the unregulated part of the internet that is not accessible to standard browsers or search engines. It could only be reached via specialist software.
Customers could only pay in cryptocurrenices such as Bitcoin, which they had to purchase in advance.
The three men arrested in Germany have not been named under local privacy laws but are German nationals aged 31, 29 and 22.
Police searching their homes found more than €550,000 (£470,000) in cash and several luxury vehicles. The three also held a six-figure sum in cryptocurrencies. Prosecutors say the website generated profits “in the millions”. A firearm was found in one of the suspect’s homes.
The three servers from which the website was run were located in Germany, the Netherlands and Romania, necessitating an international police operation.
Police monitored the suspects for several months, and decided to move when it appeared they were closing the website in a so-called “exit scam”, in which it was shut down for maintenance while they moved customers’ money to their own accounts.
“The dealers are moving from the street to the net. There is excellent protection for them and a whole new clientele. They have a very different clientele than in the real world,” Alexander Badle of the Frankfurt prosecutors’ office told Bild newspaper.
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If found guilty, the three German suspects face prison sentences of up to 15 years.