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German Police Takedown 13 Online Drug Shops

In conjunction with the State Central Office for Cybercrime and Koblenz Attorney General, 139 police officers raided properties in Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, and North Rhine-Westphalia on December 7. The operation resulted in the removal of 13 online drug shops and the arrest of site owners and conspirators. The network—or ‘gang’ as described by NRW police—sold drugs through the clearnet and darknet to several thousand customers. At one location in North Rhine-Westphalia, police found more than 30,000 pre-packaged units of various illicit substances.

The five primary suspects created and opened online drug shops. They used the shops to sell, for the most part, new psychoactive substances (NPS). The NRW press release revealed that the gang specialized in ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ and ‘amphetamine-like’ substances. Many of the clearnet shops sold designer drugs as “bath salts” or “plant fertilizers.” The full extent of the gang’s operation remains unknown—even to police—until the investigation leads to additional suspects and target locations.

Officers raided 12 properties in connection with 10 suspected members of the drug trafficking organization. On December 8, four suspects landed in police custody: a 48-year-old from Duisburg, a 58-year-old from Oberhausen; a 29-year-old from Altenkirchen; a 39-year-old from Altenkirchen. The house and property searches led to the discovery and seizure of nearly $3,000,000 worth of various assets. Police officers seized numerous computers, digital storage mediums, and cell phones. They seized packing material, shipping supplies, and 50 ‘moving boxes’ filled with 30,000 pre-packaged bags of designer drugs. Investigators said the gang sold the drugs at various price points between $15 and $30.

Officers also seized 25,000 in (legitimate) Euro notes, houses, high-quality vehicles, and bank accounts. The State Central Office for Cybercrime identified dozens of bank accounts in Germany and overseas that belonged to the conspirators. Investigators estimated that the group sold a minimum of 100 orders every day. The Koblenz Prosecutor General Jürgen Brauer called the clearnet shops and drug deals “particularly perfidious and brazen.”

Court officials upheld the arrest warrants for the suspects already apprehended by the authorities during the early-morning raid. Since the initial raid, additional suspects may have been taken into custody; one police press release included a more recent arrest in connection with the drug trafficking network. The evaluation of the evidence has “just begun,” German authorities told the press. Even though the raid was a “heavy blow” for the drug trafficking network, the investigation has also has a long way to go before completion.

Police expect more arrests and seizures in the case in the days and months to come. Germany is currently paying attention to NPS dealers because “man-made psychoactive substances can be extremely dangerous,” the Koblenz Prosecutor’s Office announced. “In recent years, the number of deaths following their consumption in Germany has skyrocketed to 98 in 2016.”

The suspects are facing charges in connection with violations of the Narcotics Act and the New Psychoactive Substances Act.

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