In a jointly published report, Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction presented information on darknet markets influenced the drug trade in EU Member States. Although darknet market criminal activity still accounts for only a small percentage of international organized crime, darknet drug sales in the EU have been increasing in number and significance, the report explained.
The press release published alongside the study highlighted the publication’s three key areas: the key concept of darknet marketplaces; an in-depth analysis of darknet drug trafficking in EU member states; and possible responses and strategies for law enforcement. Several government officials commented on the study in various capacities. Dimitris Avramopoulos, a Greek politician, said that law enforcement “shouldn’t be playing catch-up with criminals: we should be one step ahead of them.” He called for a collaboration between Europol, EMCDDA, and international authorities.
Europol and EMCDDA Drugs and the Darknet
Below are some of the findings.
Regional drug supply:
- Between 2011 and 2015, EU-based darknet suppliers and for nearly half (46%) of all drug sales by revenue. Europol and EMCDDA studied sixteen Marketplaces for the purpose of this study.
- On Alphabay, between 2015 and 2017, EU-based darknet suppliers accounted for 26% of the total number of drugs sold.
- Darknet drug suppliers in the United Kingdom sold more new psychoactive substances than suppliers in other regions.
- Between 2011 and 2015, the majority of drugs from the EU came from three countries:
- Germany, with about $31.60 million in sales;
- the United Kingdom, with just over $23 million in sales;
- the Netherlands, with just over $20 million in sales.
- During the same period, the next-in-line countries showed much lower total sales:
- Belgium at $5.5 million;
- Croatia at $2.7 million;
- Sweden at $1.5 million;
- Spain at $1.4 million.
- Roughly half of the vendors studied specialised in only one category of drug. Europol and EMCDDA reportedly saw this action most often with cannabis and stimulant vendors.
- The small number of vendors who sold from multiple categories often sold at a retail level.
- In 2015, one study suggested that 1 percent of vendors accounted for roughly 50 percent of transactions on the darknet. This included vendors using multiple accounts across several markets and personal vendor shops.
- Stimulants dominated three of the four top countries by sales. Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium sold non-cocaine stimulants. (Amphetamine and MDMA)
- Germany and the Netherlands also sold large amounts of cocaine and marijuana.
- Stimulants made the majority of the United Kingdom’s drug sales, but the market was more balanced than the other countries in the top four list:
- Non-cocaine stimulants;
- New psychoactive substances.
- Although EU countries represent 46 percent of global darknet drug revenue, they only accounted for 34 percent of global weight sold. Cannabis sales are the culprit; now cannabis is sold outside the EU than inside the EU and Cannabis.
- Some drugs showed bulk discounts and some showed effectively no bulk discounting whatsoever. Cocaine and cannabis had the greatest volume discounts. Ketamine usually sold in one gram incriminates and no statistically relevant bulk pricing was seen.
- LSD was the most common “hallucinogenic” drug sold. DMT and “Novel hallucinogenic” drugs accounted for the majority of the NPS sales.
Law enforcement response:
- The monitoring of darknet markets is suggested in the publication, but authorities are encouraged to convert intelligence gathered online into investigative leads like the a vendor’s identity.
- Given that the bigger vendors account for the majority of the darknet drug supply, Europol suggested that law enforcement focus on the larger vendors. Fewer arrests would contribute to an even greater market disruption.
- Taking down the most successful vendors undermines consumer confidence darknet markets. “While this approach has delivered the desired short-term objective of disrupting online trading activity, it has also revealed the resilience of darknet market trading,” Europol wrote.
- Operations Onymous, Bayonet and GraveSac revealed how quickly vendors and buyers can move to new markets.
- EU Member States, through Europol, will benefit from “darknet investigations teams.” These teams will:
- Gather intelligence;
- Provide support;
- Coordinate investigative operations;
- Prioritize primary targets;
- Train law enforcement;
- “drive technical development”
- Europol detailed the joint actions against Hansa and Alphabay by international law enforcement. Future investigations, they recommended, should be carried out that way.
“There is now a window of opportunity to address and disrupt the growing threat from the online trade in drugs and other illicit commodities on the darknet before such markets fully emerge as prominent distribution mechanisms for illicit drugs in the EU,” Europol concluded.