Tech-Savvy Professionals Among 22 Arrested In Dark Web Narcotics Operation: NCB

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Four cases have been lodged and 17 seizures made, said the anti-drugs agency. (representational)

New Delhi:

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has arrested 22 people, including software engineers, a financial analyst, an MBA graduate and one of their own personnel as it busted a pan-India drug trafficking network that uses the ‘darknet’ and cryptocurrency to courier narcotics at home.

The federal anti-narcotics agency unearthed three major drug markets — DNM India, Dread and The Orient Express — running on the hidden web world after a four-month operation in Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam, Punjab, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Rajasthan.

Four cases have been lodged in the matter and 17 seizures were made during this country-wide operation, officials said.

The recreational drugs were being sourced from countries like the USA, UK, Netherlands and Poland using courier services and also the India Post network, said Narcotics Control Bureau deputy director-general for northern region Gyaneshwar Singh at a press conference.

“The network was busted after a long operation that was initiated after a drug parcel was intercepted by us in Kolkata,” said Mr Singh.

“Our special investigation team that conducts cyber patrolling to check the usage of darknet has busted three big networks being run in the country using the darknet, anonymous cryptocurrency transactions and pseudonymous social media profiles,” Mr Singh added.

The darknet denotes the hidden Internet platforms that can only be accessed using specialized software and pre-configured communication protocols for anonymous communication.

Drugs cartels and syndicates are known to use this to stay under the radar of law enforcement agencies.

Mr Singh claimed that the use of courier parcels for drug delivery has increased following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

22 people, including four women, have been arrested and they are in judicial custody. One person has been granted interim bail to attend an exam, Mr Singh said.

The accused are in the age group of 20-35 years. They include engineers, software experts, a doctor, financial consultants, businessmen, an MBA, a musician and some school dropouts. Some were into these illegal activities from the age of 13-14, the officer said.

Raghunath, alias ‘LSD King’, lodged in Bellary jail in Uttar Pradesh was also among those arrested, he added.

The NCB’s Delhi zonal unit has seized 975 LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) blots, 130 grams psychotropic tablets, 6 grams heroin, paste and liquid of cannabis, 1.6 gms cocaine, 16 Alprazolam tablets, 315.8 grams charas, 171 grams hashish chocolate, a dozen capsules of Spasomoproxyvon and 7.9 kg of imported ganja.

Rs 22.5 lakh cash has been seized. Rs two crore worth crypto turnover generated from this illegal trade was detected but could not be seized as of now, Mr Singh said.

The NCB, in a statement, said, “Almost all (arrested) are very educated, tech-savvy, felt the thrill in dodging the police or NCB, have had a disturbed childhood or family problems and were highly influenced by western culture.”

Easy money, the fame of getting popular in the virtual platforms was also the allurement for these youngsters, Mr Singh said. “The loopholes in the courier and postal system made it so easy for the traffickers to deliver the drugs at home. In most of the cases, the parents or other family members of those involved did not get a wink of what was going on.”

“Names of known courier services were being misused to send narcotics in neatly packed boxes that contained items like toys, stationery items or goods of daily use,” the officer added.

He said an NCB constable was also arrested for allegedly “conniving” with an accused and getting his cellphone destroyed.

This cellphone was retrieved by the agency with the help of NDRF divers from a pond in Kolkata, another NCB officer said.

The federal anti-narcotics agency said the accused were adept at using the ‘darknet’ and its applications for narcotics transactions. Also, apps like Wickr, Tor browser, Telegram, Instagram were being used by them.

“Some phones were customized to allow a user to hide the internet protocol (IP) address,” Mr Singh said, adding payments were being made via Paytm wallet, cryptocurrency, UPI transfer and some other modes.

Some of the pseudonyms used by the accused included identities like @thekalyuga, @thanos, @thebansky, @masalacoke and @chico.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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