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Germany Shuts Down World’s Largest Illegal Darknet Market With US Help

Hydra Market’s sales topped €1 billion in 2020 alone, according to authorities.

German authorities have taken down the world’s largest illegal darknet market with the help of US law enforcement, they said.

Hydra Market was a Russian-language marketplace that had operated through the Tor network since at least 2015 and was known for heavy drug trafficking, according to German authorities. The market’s 17 million known customers were also known to buy and sell fake documents and stolen credit cards, they said. In 2020, its sales amounted to more than one billion euros.

German authorities said they seized Hydra’s server infrastructure and around $25 million in bitcoins on Tuesday.

“The seizures made today were preceded by extensive investigations that have been carried out… since August 2021 and in which several US authorities have been involved,” the German Federal Police announced.

Numerous US agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS Criminal Investigation and others, were involved in the operation, they said.

The investigation targeted Hydra operators and administrators, according to German authorities. Among other things, authorities said the market was used for criminal dealings, money laundering and heavy sales of illegal narcotics.

Hydra was the illegal market with the highest turnover in the world, German authorities said. Its sales amounted to at least €1.23 billion in 2020 alone. It also offered a service to obfuscate digital transactions, complicating crypto investigations for law enforcement.

In addition to law enforcement actions aimed at suppressing Hydra’s illegal market, the United States has sanctioned the company, as well as an Estonia-based virtual currency exchange, the US Treasury Department said in a statement. communicated.

“The global threat of cybercrime and ransomware originating in Russia, and the ability of criminal leaders there to operate with impunity, is of deep concern to the United States,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement. “Our actions today send a message to criminals that you cannot hide on the darknet or their forums, and you cannot hide in Russia or anywhere else in the world.”

Hydra accounted for around 86% of illicit Bitcoin transactions in Russia in 2019, according to the US Treasury, while Estonian exchange Garantex was used for more than $100 million in virtual currency transactions associated with illicit actors. Estonian authorities revoked Garantex’s license in February, but the company continued to operate “through unscrupulous means”, the department said.

These sanctions are an attempt by the Biden administration to show that virtual currency will not be able to escape US and international sanctions against Russia or other criminal actors.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control “closely monitors all efforts to circumvent or violate Russia-related sanctions, including through the use of virtual currency, and is committed to using its broad enforcement powers to act against violations and promote compliance,” the department says.

ABC News

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