In January 2021, investigators struck: 34-year-old Australian Julian K. was arrested in the Flensburg area, his 32-year-old wife Crystal K. a few weeks later in Oldenburg. The couple is accused of operating what is probably the world’s largest online marketplace for drugs and other illegal goods: the “DarkMarket”. Transactions in cryptocurrencies worth the equivalent of more than 140 million euros were conducted there. Now, the Oldenburg Central Criminal Investigation Department has concluded its months-long investigation into the operators.
According to research by the NDR political magazine Panorama 3, the couple from Queensland, Australia, together with their 12-year-old son, had been on a tourist trip to Europe since the beginning of 2020. Meanwhile, Julian K. is said to have operated the “DarkMarket”, apparently supported by his wife Crystal, who is said to have taken over the “customer service” on the platform.
Among other things, the alleged operators traveled through Europe in a Ferrari, stayed in luxury hotels and bought expensive luxury goods, allegedly also a watch for around 250,000 euros.
Julian K. had felt safe, he said. “The darknet offers great anonymity and he acted very cautiously, he didn’t have to assume that people would match his real life with his figure in the darknet,” said senior prosecutor Jörg Angerer of the State Central Cybercrime Office in Koblenz. According to research by Panorama 3, investigators noted, “The manhunt for Julian K. is proving difficult because he leaves no traces on the Internet or conceals them.”
The fact that it was possible to establish his identity and ultimately his whereabouts is also due to the “Cybercrime Taskforce” of the Oldenburg Central Criminal Investigation Department. For several years, traditional police officers have been sitting here alongside IT specialists like Frederik Berg, who was recruited specifically for cases like this. Berg and his team succeeded in tracking down Julian K – who only called himself “Dark” on his platform – and identifying him.
The alleged operator K. usually collected a commission of four percent for each transaction on “DarkMarket”, paid in cryptocurrencies. Using a special program, investigators then tracked the payments in order to find out the true identity of the perpetrator. “You try to track the transactions until they make contact with the real world and real money as we know it. That is, when Bitcoin are converted into euros,” Berg says. Thus, after months of searching, it was possible to track down Julian K. and his wife.
Since January 2021, both have been in pre-trial detention. They are accused, among other things, of aiding and abetting the trafficking of narcotics in not insignificant quantities. So far, both have remained silent to the investigating judge. Julian K.’s defense lawyer Sebastian Wendt considers many questions still open. “Even if he was running this marketplace, what exactly does it look like? Did he actually have knowledge of everything that was going on?” said Wendt when asked. Crystal K.’s defense attorney does not want to comment on the ongoing proceedings.
According to Panorama 3 information, investigators are still searching for at least two other alleged accomplices. An indictment against Julian and Crystal K. is imminent.