Crime & Justice

Kazakhstan busts suspects accused of trafficking drugs on 'dark web'

By Alexander Bogatik

Police special forces move to detain suspected drug smugglers November 3 in Astana. [Kazakhstani Interior Ministry]

Police special forces move to detain suspected drug smugglers November 3 in Astana. [Kazakhstani Interior Ministry]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstan's Cyber ​​Security Division and National Security Committee (KNB) dismantled a crime ring selling illegal drugs online, authorities said earlier this month.

The KNB's cyber security and anti-drug divisions and special operations forces jointly conducted a large-scale operation against two organised crime rings in Astana and Almaty, the KNB reported November 3.

At least 12 suspected members of the groups were arrested and accused of exploiting the "dark web" to distribute "narcotic and psychotropic substances," the KNB said.

"This is the first time Kazakhstanis have been involved in online drug trafficking," Yevgeny Li of Astana, an IT security specialist at the L-Paritet firm, which installs cameras and other security equipment, told Caravanserai. "These are tendencies of the modern world. The internet is a reflection of our reality."

Authorities monitoring the dark web exposed the crime rings, said the KNB.

The 'dark web' and online crime

The "dark web" is a part of the internet that the ordinary user does not see, Taraz-based IT specialist Ivan Korneyev told Caravanserai.

"Users gain access to it using special software," he said. "There, they buy and sell illegal substances and weapons, and engage in all manners of illegal activity."

Drug traffickers accept crypto-currency payments into their Yandex, Money, Qiwi or WebMoney electronic accounts, said Korneyev. They then send the buyer illegal substances by mail or directions to drug stashes.

To organise an illegal drug supply chain in Kazakhstan, the drug dealers likely built their own delivery system with middlemen and messengers in each city, Li said.

"[The drug dealers] recruit these people online [by] offering them big money," he said.

"People are making a big mistake by believing that you can do whatever you want with impunity on the dark web," he said. "It's an unseen part of the internet for search engines like Google or Yandex, but law enforcement agencies keep a close eye on it."

Korneyev explained that law enforcement cyber security agents often work undercover as buyers or sellers on the dark web to identify the activities of criminal groups.

"Kazakhstan is creating a cyber shield system to combat IT crimes, [for which] major funding has been allocated and top specialists are being recruited," he said. "This will keep drugs from being sold online."

Online drug cartels alarm parents

"Of course, we are scared for our children," said Maya Samedova, a mother of two teenaged sons in Taraz, who learned about the dark web drug cartels from local newspapers.

She tries to monitor what her sons do online, she said. But constant supervision is impossible.

"That's why police and security services are our only hope," she told Caravanserai. "They identify and punish those who sell drugs online."

Seytjan Abdildayev, director of Gorod Bez Narkotikov (Drug-Free City), an NGO in Shymkent, praised police for combating drug trafficking.

"We regularly hear how the police are shutting down drug trade channels, detaining drug smugglers and destroying organised crime rings," he told Caravanserai.

"The time has now come to clean up the internet. After all, even a teenager can try to buy drugs online," he said.

Fighting drug trafficking nationwide

Meanwhile, efforts against conventional drug trafficking have continued to see results in Kazakhstan.

Operation Koknar (Mak in Russian; Poppy in English), a major counter-narcotics effort that runs annually from June through October in Kazakhstan, has resulted in the seizure of several tonnes of drugs this year, according to the country's Border Guard Service.

New legislation also is meant to tackle evolving aspects of the drug trade.

"Kazakhstan drafted a bill to amend legislation on narcotic and psychotropic substance trafficking," Abdildayev said, referring to a bill still working its way through parliament. "New synthetic types of drugs will fall under the ban [including] 88 basic chemical compounds that can be modified into new drugs."

The US has given Kazakhstan considerable support in fighting drug trafficking by providing special vehicles and advisory support to Kazakhstani anti-drug police.

"Only by co-operating with other countries can we successfully fight drug trafficking, especially the sale of drugs online and the activities of international criminal syndicates," Abdildayev said.

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