A criminal gang using cryptocurrencies to produce and distribute “new psychoactive substances” (NPS) through various markets on the deep web was investigated for years by the Spanish and Austrian authorities until finally, a few days ago, they were able to identify and capture its members.
The joint work between the Spanish Civil Guard, the Austrian Federal Police and Europol involved a rigorous level of planning, coordination, and secrecy since it is normal that in the event of any suspicion, this type of gang fade entirely out of the network.
According to official information from the Spanish Civil Guard, Operation DRYER started in 2015 with the interception of a package in Bavaria. It contained a significant amount of drugs from a PO box in Ogijares (Granada, Spain).
The criminal network had a high level of organization and handled connections in over 100 countries around the world:
Researchers detected a significant movement of parcels and postal envelopes, sent from that post office box to more than 100 different countries, containing narcotic substances camouflaged as other products of recognized brands whose marketing is legal, such as cement additives or anti-humidity products.
Behind this operation was a giant conglomerate of companies and firms in several countries, some of them offshore, whose purpose was none other than to give an appearance of legality to the illegal activity they carried out and to launder the economic benefits obtained from it.
The authorities were able to determine that the criminal gang had been operating at least since 2012. The raw material for the production of the drugs came from China, although they mention that the band had to change its modus operandi after legal regulations in the Asian country underwent significant changes.
As a consequence, the organization set up a laboratory in Amsterdam, which served as a production unit for the NPS, hiring two chemical engineers and purchasing scientific material valued at more than €200,000, such as synthesis reactors, chromatographs, stone crushers or numerous analysis and laboratory materials.
From this laboratory, the narcotic substances were designed and produced, then transfered to two other laboratories located in Alhendín (Granada) and La Pobla de Vallbona (Valencia), which were directly managed by the organisation and in which the final treatment of the product, packaging, and distribution to the final consumer were carried out.
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To cover its tracks, the gang accepted cryptocurrencies. In fact, it was the payment method recommended by the merchants. Besides, they used other virtual payment systems which then went redirected to various bank accounts when necessary.
The means of payment offered by the websites to their customers were virtual payment platforms such as Paypal, Payward or Payvision, which were deposited in bank accounts linked to companies of the organization, or through crypto transfers, mainly using Bitcoin (BTC).
To convert these profits into cash, those under investigation used the traditional “Hawala” system, through various intermediaries with other criminal organizations, making transactions of up to €700,000, which were then deposited in safes of specialized companies.
Authorities seized 509 BTC, (about €2,500,000), plus €137,000 in IOTA and €30,000 in LUMEN.