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World's Biggest Darknet Marketplace, Russia-Linked Hydra Market, Seized and Shut Down, DOJ Says

Nicholas Kamm | Reuters
  • Hydra Market, the world's largest and oldest darknet marketplace of illegal items and services, was seized and shut down by German authorities in coordination with U.S. law enforcement.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice also announced criminal charges against one of Hydra Market's alleged operators.
  • German Federal Criminal Police seized cryptocurrency wallets containing $25 million in bitcoin from the marketplace, the DOJ said.

Hydra Market, which was considered to be the world's largest and oldest darknet marketplace of illegal items and services, was seized and shut down by German authorities in coordination with U.S. law enforcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The DOJ also charged one of Hydra Market's alleged operators with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In addition, German Federal Criminal Police seized cryptocurrency wallets containing $25 million in bitcoin from the marketplace, the DOJ said.

The darknet, or dark web, is the collection of websites hidden from normal search engines and web browsers, with users accessing it with browsers that hide their identities.

Hydra Market, whose users were primarily in Russian-speaking countries, last year accounted for what is estimated to have been 80% of all darknet market-related cryptocurrency transactions, according to the Justice Department.

Since 2015, Hydra Market has received about $5.2 billion in cryptocurrency for transactions on the site, reaping commissions worth millions of dollars on those sales, the DOJ said.

Hydra Market enabled vendors of a wide range of drugs — including heroin, other opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and LSD — to connect with customers of those narcotics, who could rate sellers on a five-star system, according to U.S. prosecutors.

The marketplace also facilitated sales of false identification documents, hacking tools and services, and money laundering services for bitcoin.

The DOJ said it had obtained an indictment against a resident of Russia, 30-year-old Dmitry Olegovich Pavlov, for conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection with his operation and administration of the servers used to run Hydra.

Beginning in late 2015, Pavlov allegedly operated a company that administered Hydra's servers, "which allowed the market to operate as a platform used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute large quantities of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to thousands of buyers, and to launder billions of dollars derived from these unlawful transactions," according to the DOJ.

"Together with our German law enforcement partners, we have seized the infrastructure of the world's largest darknet market, but our work is far from over," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

"We will continue to work alongside our international and interagency partners to disrupt and dismantle darknet markets, and to hold those who commit their crimes on the dark web accountable for their acts," Garland added.

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