A directive has been issued to hire experts and companies on complex financial data, and forensic audits to decrypt dark web-linked drug dealings in crypto
Over the past few years, NCB and local Police CCB have arrested some drug peddlers like Sriki, and Makarand Adivirkar a.k.a ‘Crypto King’ for buying drugs on the dark web
According to a Chainalysis report, the average payment size on the dark web has risen from $160 in 2016 to $493 in 2021 worth of cryptocurrency
Narcotics Control Bureau, India’s apex agency for drug law enforcement, has now decided to hire experts to decode crypto-linked drug crimes using the dark web.
According to a PTI report, NCB has issued a notice for impanelment seeking help from consultancy agencies in unearthing the chain of drug money transactions and providing effective guidance in financial investigation matters.
The directive was issued after NCB’s botched up investigation in a high profile case of Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan where the further investigation into the drugs-on-cruise case found several irregularities in the raid and overall investigation, including the arrest of Khan’s son.
However, that is just one case. When it comes to crypto, all the apex agencies of the country — the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and Narcotics Control Bureau (CBI, ED, and NCB) — have failed to culminate the probes pertaining to crypto.
While ED has not been able to solve the Gainbitcoin case so far, NCB has not completed the investigation related to crypto-linked drug cases, despite having arrested over a hundred across the country. In their conversations with Inc42, many of these investigators have expressed their lack of expertise while investigating such cases.
Similarly, the CBI and ED have been asked to probe the infamous Bengaluru hacker Srikrishna Ramesh, aka Sriki, who was also found procuring drugs on the darknet. Sriki, a drug peddler and hacker, used bitcoins to purchase drugs and distributed them among his clients, allegedly influential politicians and business people.
According to the latest directive, these experts and consultancy firms will assist the NCB investigators in analysing financial statements and data available in various databases of the bureau and other agencies. It will also help investigators prepare statements of income and expenditure of the interested party and related parties to unearth the ill-gotten money, says the PTI report.
The Increasing Dark Web Activities In India
In the last year alone, India has seized more than 1000 KG of Heroin from its territorial waters. A significant amount of these drugs are also suspected to be catered to the end-users through the dark web.
And this is where crypto comes into the picture. Dark web users mostly use crypto, particularly bitcoin to buy these drugs.
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According to global blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis crypto crime report 2022, globally, criminal whales hold over $25 Bn in cryptocurrency from a multitude of illicit sources. Barring 2018, the darknet market revenue has been increasing exponentially.
“The average payment size on dark web has leapt from $160 in 2016 to $493 in 2021 worth of cryptocurrency,” says the report.
Over the past few years, local Police CCB, Bengaluru and NCB have arrested some of the crypto masterminds such as Sriki, and Makarand P Adivirkar a.k.a ‘Crypto King’, who have allegedly been supplying drugs by making payments in crypto on the dark web in Bengaluru and Mumbai respectively.
NCB suspects that similar crypto agents have been peddling drugs in other cities too. While it took NCB almost a year of preparation to catch Adivirkar, it has failed to catch the peddlers in other cities so far.
More importantly, according to the CCB investigation, these drugs were being supplied to some of the most influential people in the city which include the people in power.
NCB Is Also Working On To Collab With BRICS Countries
While India has already signed multiple bilateral agreements on matters related to drug control, the NCB is now looking for more active cooperation which includes joint training and other programmes in order to gain further expertise and access.
Since the dark web network supply and demand has been borderless, the NCB has been looking to collab with other countries’ apex agencies to uncover these crypto-linked drug cases on a bigger scale.
In a meeting last year attended by apex agencies of BRICS countries, the members had discussed future cooperation in conducting joint training programs on darknet and trafficking of drugs through express courier parcels.
“Deliberations were made on conducting controlled delivery operations. The meeting also discussed the need for a Mechanism for BRICS Anti-Drug Liaison Officers proposed by India,” according to an NCB statement.
RTI: NCB Refused To Share Progress On Dark Web Matters
In October last year, an RTI was filed seeking the number of people arrested for selling or buying drugs on the darknet state-wise. The RTI also sought the total drugs collected in dark web-linked cases and the number of cryptocurrencies seized.
However, the apex agency refused to share any information citing Section 24 of the RTI Act.
According to Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, nothing contained in the RTI Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, being organisations established by the Central Government or any information furnished by such organisations to that Government.
Better late than never, while NCB has finally turned to the experts and auditors to decode the complex financial data sets and network, it is high time that other agencies such as ED, CBI and city cybercrime police teams also look to hire experts to resolve crypto crimes in a short period, else it won’t do justice to the victims of crypto crimes due to the very nature of crypto assets.