Law enforcement agencies have seized $80,000 worth of bitcoin as part of an international undercover investigation that tracked the illegal selling of firearms on a dark web site, according to a statement by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Four people across Australia have been charged with attempting to buy illegal firearms, while a further 17 arrests have been made across Europe and North America, the statement reveals.
The joint investigation between the United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), AFP and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) focused on the international trade of illegal firearms by a US-based seller, who was later identified as a 33-year-old man living in Montana.
The operation first started when ACBPS shared information with HSI, enabling agents to begin a covert operation using the seller's account, which led to the identification of Australian-based customers attempting to buy illegal firearms.
The controlled delivery of six parcels to addresses in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory also resulted in the seizure of a wide range of illegal goods, including firearms, ammunition, two clandestine laboratories, drugs, computer equipment and mobile phones.
HSI acting special agent Kevin Kelly said the joint operation should serve as a warning to those using the dark web for the purchase of illicit goods, adding:
“Anyone who mistakenly thinks that they can get away with these types of crimes by hiding in the endless depths of the Internet must know that HSI will seek them out and bring them to justice.”
Steve Lancaster, national director of investigations and assistant commissioner at the ACBPS, noted the arrest of the US based supplier had removed a significant firearm threat to the Australian border.
He said: “People using these sites should not be fooled by claims of online anonymity, each transaction builds up a global web of intelligence which international partners are using to target you.”
In Europe and North America, the arrests resulted in the confiscation of additional firearms, ballistic armour and illegal drugs.
Gwern Branwen, a security researcher, believes he has identified both the dark web marketplace and the alias used by the seller.
The expert exposed his findings in the DarkNetMarkets sub-reddit. Branwen linked the arrest of Justin Moreira, from Hyannis (Massachusetts), charged with attempting to buy a firearm from a federal undercover agent to the investigation undertaken by US an Australian law enforcement.
According to the criminal complaint, uploaded by Branwen, Moreira used the alias "jd497" to order his weapon on the Agora marketplace. The weapon is believed to have been sold by a user with the "weaponsguy” alias.
Branwen also highlighted that the dates of the criminal complaint matched those included in the AFP's recent statement.
Firearms image via Shutterstock.