Drug raids fo­cus on harm-re­duc­tion

Dark-net hauls mainly in­tended for per­sonal use

The Northern Advocate - - Nation -

"Our mes­sage to peo­ple us­ing the dark net is sim­ple: the dark net is not anony­mous. And if you’re us­ing the dark net to con­duct crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, you should think again." As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of in­ves­ti­ga­tions Richard Cham­bers ( pic­tured in­set)

Po­lice have vis­ited more than 80 ad­dresses na­tion­wide in a ma­jor crack­down on peo­ple im­port­ing il­licit drugs via the dark net — but not one of­fender has been charged.

Over the past two weeks, po­lice have run a pre­ven­tion-fo­cused op­er­a­tion — Op­er­a­tion Gar­den — tar­get­ing the im­por­ta­tion of il­licit drugs pur­chased on the dark net.

In to­tal, 84 ad­dresses were vis­ited but no charges were laid. Po­lice fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion and harm-re­duc­tion in­stead.

As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of in­ves­ti­ga­tions Richard Cham­bers said law en­force­ment agen­cies around the world were see­ing an in­crease in the im­por­ta­tion of il­licit drugs pur­chased on­line — in­clud­ing through the dark net — and New Zea­land was not im­mune to the global trend.

He said the ad­dresses vis­ited as part of the op­er­a­tion were iden­ti­fied, through in­for­ma­tion from Dutch law en­force­ment, as be­ing linked to the pur­chase of il­licit drugs via the dark net.

“We work closely with NZ Cus­toms and our part­ners in in­ter­na­tional law en­force­ment, and we have been suc­cess­ful at iden­ti­fy­ing in­di­vid­u­als who have at­tempted to avoid de­tec­tion by us­ing the dark net to con­duct their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties,” Cham­bers said.

“En­force­ment agen­cies across the world are in­creas­ingly pool­ing their re­sources and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to dis­rupt crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties con­ducted on­line, and this type of in­ter­na­tional co-op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther di­min­ishes the il­lu­sion of anonymity of­fered by the dark net.”

The po­lice Na­tional Or­gan­ised Crime Group worked with their Dutch coun­ter­parts for sev­eral months to iden­tify those tar­geted as part of this op­er­a­tion.

The ma­jor­ity of those iden­ti­fied had been im­port­ing drugs such as MDMA and LSD for per­sonal use, rather than for the pur­pose of on-sell­ing for profit.

For that rea­son, the fo­cus of the op­er­a­tion was on ed­u­ca­tion and harm­re­duc­tion, rather than prose­cu­tion.

“We want to help peo­ple avoid get­ting trapped in a down­ward-spi­ral of drug ad­dic­tion — and we know that op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­duce the im­pact of il­licit drugs on our com­mu­ni­ties re­quire multi-agency ini­tia­tives fo­cused not only on en­force­ment, but on pre­ven­tion, treat­ment, and harm re­duc­tion,” Cham­bers ex­plained.

“That is not to say that prose­cu­tions will not be sought if fur­ther ev­i­dence is un­cov­ered as part of our vis­its.

“How­ever, our pri­mary fo­cus is to of­fer ad­vice and sup­port to in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies, and to work with our com­mu­nity part­ners to con­nect peo­ple to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices where needed.”

De­spite the ed­u­ca­tion and harm- re­duc­tion fo­cus of the op­er­a­tion, Cham­bers said po­lice warned any­one con­sid­er­ing im­port­ing il­licit drugs through the dark net that they should not be com­pla­cent about the risks of get­ting caught.

A num­ber of for­mal po­lice warn­ings were is­sued to peo­ple spo­ken to as part of the op­er­a­tion.

“Crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity con­ducted on­line is an in­creas­ing fo­cus for po­lice,” Cham­bers said.

In Septem­ber, Com­mis­sioner Mike Bush an­nounced an ad­di­tional 77 of­fi­cers to boost the po­lice ca­pa­bil­ity around hitech/cy­ber-crime.

“This in­cludes a ma­jor fo­cus on polic­ing the dark net and com­bat­ting the trade of il­licit com­modi­ties,” Cham­bers said.

“Our mes­sage to peo­ple us­ing the dark net is sim­ple: the dark net is not anony­mous. And if you’re us­ing the dark net to con­duct crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, you should think again.”

Last year, po­lice be­gan re­ceiv­ing tipoffs from crim­i­nal sources and Cus­toms of­fi­cials about an in­crease in sus­pi­cious drug-loaded pack­ages com­ing through the in­ter­na­tional mail sys­tem.

An ex­ten­sive op­er­a­tion dis­cov­ered Auck­land teens were im­port­ing drugs on­line and sell­ing it to their peers.

One case high­lighted by the Her­ald was that of Elias Valentin Smith.

The baby-faced teenager was im­port­ing drugs from all over the world and pay­ing in bit­coin be­fore po­lice raided his un­sus­pect­ing par­ents’ North Shore home as part of Op­er­a­tion Tiger.

PHO­TOS / FILE

Party drug MDMA found in­side a let­ter that was likely pur­chased from the dark net at the In­ter­na­tional Mail Cen­tre at Auck­land Air­port.

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