Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Nassif - Drop the phone, drop the laptop now’: Inside a dark web drug bust

Toplace director Jean Nassif says he'll fix dodgy Sydney buildings if police drop warrant

 Drop the phone, drop the laptop now’: Inside a dark web drug bust

Three friends in their 20s sat in a BMW on Francesco Crescent, Bella Vista, in Sydney’s north-west.
The trio were unaware that NSW Police were watching them as the black nor’easter weather system began to threaten Sydney last Thursday.
Strike Force Cyan at Bella Vista on Thursday.
Strike Force Cyan at Bella Vista on Thursday.CREDIT: NSW POLICE
Since October last year, the cybercrime squad, which has been investigating the selling of drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine on a darknet market in Sydney, has had the men in its sights.
Mayuran Devakumar, Mathurshan Sangarathasan and Harpeet “Harry” Flora continued chatting and scrolling on their phones, sheltering from the rain.
At 3.30pm, three unmarked police cars converged. Police removed the men from the metallic-coloured sedan and handcuffed them on the ground.
“Police, get out of the car. Get on the ground, now,” an officer yelled in the arrest footage.
Police will allege the syndicate sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of methamphetamine and cocaine.
Police will allege the syndicate sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of methamphetamine and cocaine.CREDIT: POLICE MEDIA
“Drop the phone, drop the laptop. Get on your belly, turn your head the other way.
“You are under arrest for the supply of drugs, do you understand that?”
Police allege that the friends were running a darknet business that had generated hundreds of thousands of dollars selling cocaine and methamphetamine to upwards of 150 people.
Speaking to this masthead in the aftermath of the arrests, cybercrime squad boss Detective Superintendent Matt Craft said the squad’s approach was very different to that of traditional policing.
The squad was formed in 2017 in response to the boom of criminal activity online. Police spend a lot of time chasing criminal activity on darknet markets.
These darknet markets operate on the dark web and are used for selling, or brokering transactions, involving illicit commodities such as drugs, firearms and fraudulent documents.
The dark web has gained notoriety because it cannot be accessed through conventional web browsers such as Google. The identity of visitors and website owners accessing the dark web is kept hidden through the use of encrypted browsers that mask true IP addresses, the unique identifying number assigned to every device connected to the internet.
“Most police, when you arrest someone, it’s ‘drop the knife’. For us, it’s ‘drop the computer’ – that’s where the evidence is. It’s important we get that electronic evidence,” Craft said.
All three arrested men were taken to Riverstone police station.
There, alleged ringleader Devakumar, 25, an unemployed man living in Bella Vista, was charged with a raft of offences, including directing a criminal group and drug supply.
Sangarathasan, 27, from Toongabbie living with his mother, was charged with 16 drug supply charges. A police dog also allegedly located ice underneath his single bed. His mother was said to be distraught at her son’s arrest.
Glenwood man Flora, 25, was charged with participating in a criminal group and participating in drug supply. Police will allege he was involved in the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine, and they have seized a vehicle they say was involved in that.
Detectives will also allege they seized prohibited drugs, drug paraphernalia, bitcoin wallets and electronics.
All three were refused bail to appear in Blacktown Local Court on Friday, where Devakumar and Sangarathasan were refused bail.
Flora was granted bail under strict conditions, including a ban from the internet, drug and alcohol testing and not leaving home except for emergencies as well as daily reporting to the Hills police station.
Business records show Devakumar and Flora opened a business named Flourish Studios together late last year. Its Instagram page says it will “ignite your brand’s digital utopia”; its website does not work.
“They had a range of business schemes, but since we’ve been investigating they haven’t been engaged in full-time meaningful employment,” Craft said.
Speaking to the significance of the bust, Craft said: “The business was [allegedly] building – they were establishing a customer base which was growing.
“People think you can remain anonymous, but law enforcement has evolved,” he said. “We focus primarily on those in NSW; we’re constantly scanning the darknet and the clear net – we’re policing both of those.”
Police are also continuing to investigate where the syndicate allegedly purchased the drugs.