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Eight properties in Otago have been visited as part of a nationwide crackdown on people importing illicit drugs via the dark net - but not one offender has been charged.
Over the past two weeks, police have run a prevention-focused operation – Operation Garden - targeting the importation of illicit drugs purchased on the dark net.
In total, 84 addresses were visited but no charges were laid. Police focused on education and harm-reduction instead.
A police spokeswoman said three homes were visited in Dunedin and five in Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes.
While formal warnings were issued elsewhere, none were given in Otago.
Assistant Commissioner of investigations Richard Chambers said law enforcement agencies around the world were seeing an increase in the importation of illicit drugs purchased online – including through the dark net - and New Zealand was not immune to the global trend.
He said the addresses visited as part of the operation were identified, through information from Dutch law enforcement, as being linked to the purchase of illicit drugs via the dark net.
"We work closely with NZ Customs and our partners in international law enforcement, and we have been successful at identifying individuals who have attempted to avoid detection by using the dark net to conduct their criminal activities," Chambers said.
"Enforcement agencies across the world are increasingly pooling their resources and capabilities to disrupt criminal activities conducted online, and this type of international cooperation and collaboration further diminishes the illusion of anonymity offered by the dark net."
The police National Organised Crime Group worked with their Dutch counterparts for several months to identify those targeted as part of this operation.
The majority of those identified had been importing drugs such as MDMA and LSD for personal use, rather than for the purpose of on-selling for profit.
For that reason, the focus of the operation was on education and harm-reduction, rather than prosecution.
"We want to help people avoid getting trapped in a downward-spiral of drug addiction - and we know that opportunities to reduce the impact of illicit drugs on our communities require multi-agency initiatives focused not only on enforcement, but on prevention, treatment, and harm reduction," Chambers explained.
"That is not to say that prosecutions will not be sought if further evidence is uncovered as part of our visits.
"However, our primary focus is to offer advice and support to individuals and their families, and to work with our community partners to connect people to rehabilitation services where needed."
Despite the education and harm-reduction focus of the operation, Chambers said police warned anyone considering importing illicit drugs through the dark net that they should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught.
A number of formal police warnings were issued to people spoken to as part of the operation.
"Criminal activity conducted online is an increasing focus for police," Chambers said.
In September, Commissioner Mike Bush announced an additional 77 officers to boost the police capability around high tech/cyber-crime.
"This includes a major focus on policing the dark net and combatting the trade of illicit commodities," Chambers said.
"Our message to people using the dark net is simple: the dark net is not anonymous.
"And if you're using the dark net to conduct criminal activity, you should think again."
Last year, police began receiving tip-offs from criminal sources and Customs officials about an increase in suspicious drug-loaded packages coming through the international mail system.
An extensive operation discovered Auckland teens were importing drugs online and selling it to their peers.
One case highlighted by the New Zealand Herald was that of Elias Valentin Smith.
The baby-faced teenager was importing drugs from all over the world and paying in bitcoin before police raided his unsuspecting parents' North Shore home as part of Operation Tiger.
The case also highlighted concern over how accessible illicit substances are online for young people.
With Otago Daily Times