Irish criminal gangs are increasingly using digital currencies like bitcoins to accumulate wealth and to buy assets and are hiring experts to assist them, gardaí told the Irish Examiner.
Senior members of the Kinahan cartel were arrested in Amsterdam last November during operations in which a bitcoin computer was seized inside a heavily fortified apartment.
Representatives from 34 countries as well as organisations such as Europol, Interpol, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are gathering in Dublin today and tomorrow to discuss drug-related cybercrime as part of the Council of Europe Pompidou Group.
Senior gardaí said they faced significant challenges in tackling the use of the darknet (the hidden internet), cryptocurrencies and encryption by gangs.
“The phenomenon of online drug trafficking is a global challenge and the darknet is seen as a place of boundless innovation,” said assistant commissioner John O’Driscoll, head of Special Crime Operations.
He said he was involved in two operations including Ireland’s “first major seizure” involving the online sale of drugs on the darknet in 2014.
Neil Mannion and Richard O’Connor were sentenced over that. Mr O’Driscoll said he was also in Amsterdam at the time of the Irish-Dutch operation targeting the Kinahan cartel, in which a bitcoin machine was seized.
Sergeant Colm Fitzgerald of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, said that a key administrator of Silk Road (the then biggest darknet website), Co Wicklow man Gary Davis, was based in Ireland before being arrested on foot of an extradition requested from the US.
Mr O’Driscoll said Irish criminal groups were using bitcoins to accumulate wealth, later turned into “bricks and mortar and businesses”.
Both gardaí said gangs have the resources to hire professionals and use their expertise to transfer their wealth online.
Mr O’Driscoll said there have been examples where shortly after gardaí identify relevant data on the darknet it was “closed down immediately”. However, he said there were cases before the courts where they intend to reveal some of the results they had obtained by managing to save the data before it was removed. These will be used in significant prosecutions against organised crime groups.
In a separate operation yesterday, €250,000 in cash was discovered stuffed inside a mattress. A woman was sleeping on the bed when the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau raided the home. They suspect the group is associated with the Kinahans.