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U.S.-German operation shuts down world’s largest darknet marketplace

The Justice Department estimated that the Hydra Market platform accounted for 80 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web.

German authorities on Tuesday, in coordination with the U.S. Justice Department, shut down Hydra Market, a Russian-language site they described as the world’s largest and longest-running illegal marketplace on the dark web.

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco also filed criminal money laundering and drug charges against a 30-year-old resident of Russia, Dmitry Olegovich Pavlov, described as the site’s alleged administrator. 

In court documents, the Justice Department estimated that Hydra Market accounted for 80 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions on the dark net, generating $5.2 billion in sales since 2016. German and American officials said authorities seized cryptocurrency worth $25.3 million dollars when they shut the market down.

Prosecutors said the marketplace enabled users, mainly in Russian-speaking countries, to buy and sell illegal drugs, stolen financial data, and fraudulent identification documents, including U.S. passports and drivers licenses. The site also offered money-laundering services, court documents said.

A cybercrime research firm, Elliptic, said the products were advertised for sale in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“The Department of Justice will not allow darknet markets and cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering and the sale of hacking tools and services,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

Court documents said Hydra allowed sellers to create accounts and advertise illegal products, and buyers could create accounts to purchase them. Among illegal drugs offered for sale were cocaine, methamphetamines, LSD and heroin.  

Buyers rated the sellers on a five-star range, which were displayed on the site along with customer reviews. German officials said the marketplace had about 17 million buyer accounts and more than 19,000 sales accounts. 

“This was the Amazon-dot-com of the dark web,” a Justice Department official said.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Tuesday against the Hydra market and Garantex, a virtual currency exchange based in Russia. It said both had helped finance gangs that carried out ransomware attacks