Law enforcement officials in Europe have been working on attempts to stop the trade of counterfeit money in the region.
Earlier this month, Europol agents conducted search warrants on approximately 300 houses. This led to the detention of 235 suspects from 13 countries.
This operation has been taking place since November 19. However, the authorities succeeded in stopping most of these offenses between December 3 and 9.
In May 2013, Europol started an operation to track down illegal activity taking place on the dark web. The organization announced that it would be working with other European authorities to conduct the crackdown.
E.U. Countries Collaborate
In the recent home searches, officers confiscated around 1,500 fake euro banknotes.
They also seized mobile phones, Bitcoin funds, hardware for cryptocurrency mining and computers.
Some of these suspects further had custody of a variety of weapons including nunchaku, illicit knives and blades, as well as firearms.
In Germany, the authorities found some of their suspects in possession of marijuana-planting facilities, while the France police uncovered a cannabis plantation and a printing shop for counterfeit euro money.
Germany, which has experienced a dramatic rise in counterfeit money crimes in recent years, conducted the most house searches among the European countries.
The German law enforcement officers searched about 180 houses. France searched 28 homes, while Austria and Italy had 20 searches.
The other countries that took part in the house searches include the U.K., the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, Portugal, Croatia, Cyprus and Spain.
The Beginning of the Crackdown
The operation started after the Federal Criminal Police Office in Austria successfully worked on a case involving the sale of counterfeit money on the dark web.
The law enforcement officers, with the help of Europol, managed to track down and apprehend the owner of a dark web portal that supported the illegal trade.
The portal owner made a mistake in keeping the illegal transactions safe. He did not use the right encryption, which created a loophole for the authorities to find the transactions.
The suspect received payments in cryptocurrency. He maintained a list of the delivery addresses for the counterfeit money.
After the Austrian law enforcement found the suspect, they impounded his hardware, which contained his customers’ information.
The authorities gave the device to Europol to analyze the data therein. Europol then forwarded it to other law enforcement agencies in the countries where the suspect delivered the fake money.
The suspect allegedly owned a print shop in Leoben, Austria, which the authorities destroyed.
Europol reported that the shop owner could print banknotes of 10, 20 and 50 euro. Based on the evidence against him, the suspect had made and delivered more than 10,000 notes.
Following this arrest, Europol member states agreed during one of their meetings that a harmonized action against this crime would be useful.
Austria has been quite active in the fight against counterfeit money for the last few years. The authorities in this country have mostly focused on the dark web to track down those behind these offenses.
The Austrian authorities destroyed a counterfeit banknote print shop in Vienna last year. Finding the shop enabled Europol to link the crime to 53 suspects, whom the police arrested.
Austria also helped Poland in the crackdown against fake money. In September this year, law enforcement officers from both countries destroyed an illicit printing shop in Gdynia, Poland.
The criminals running the two shops used the dark web to trade their fake money. However, they did not secure their sites properly.
Law enforcement, thus, gathered substantial evidence against them.
Europol’s Fight against Counterfeit Money
Wil van Gemert, the deputy executive operations director at Europol, reported that the success of the joint operation in apprehending the participants in the counterfeit money trade should be proof that dark web activity is not entirely anonymous.
Gemert warned the public that the authorities could easily track down illegal activity online. Besides, Europol is still making efforts to prevent the creation and trade of counterfeit euros.
According to Gemert, the fight is taking place not only online but in the physical world as well.
Europol is part of all the investigations of counterfeit money cases in the European Union.
The agency provides funding for the probes and offers forensic assistance to the law enforcement groups working on such matters.
Prior to the current case, Europol has conducted other crackdowns on counterfeit-related crimes happening in the dark web.
In a 2017 operation, the agency took down over 20,000 websites involved in the sale of counterfeit goods.
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