Geopolitics

Darknet, Inside An Illicit German Weapons Ring On The Internet

Criminals of the 21st century do not have to go to clubs to sell their drugs or drive across the border to buy their weapons. They only have to smuggle malware onto someone’s computer or sell their goods at the black market of the digital underground.

Darknet, Inside An Illicit German Weapons Ring On The Internet
Marc Neller

Reports on the shooting Friday in Munich that left nine dead say that the gunman likely obtained his weapons online illegally via the "dark net." The following Die Welt article earlier this month covers another German case, in the city of Stuttgart, and the issues around black market activity on encrypted websites.

BERLIN â€" The three young men knew how to make lots of money. All they needed was a small workshop at grandma’s, access to the Internet and a few guns that fired blanks.

One of them was a toolmaker. He would be the one to turn the blank-firing guns into real weapons, mostly Walther PK380 semi-automatic pistols. The second had the funds to buy the material needed for the operation. The third would help assemble the weapons.

And then there’s Darknet, a kind of parallel Internet in which you can remain anonymous or use a fake identity. That would be the perfect place to sell their homemade weapons. Later, they thought, they might even graduate to big guns like the Zastava M70 or AK-47 assault rifle.

That’s the story the Stuttgart district attorney pieced together after months of investigation. The suspects are German nationals â€" one aged 24 and the two others aged 28 â€" who now face charges for trading illegal weapons online.

Although the investigating officers do not know how the men managed to import four illegal assault rifles from China and Yugoslavia, they are sure that the youngest of the three was the one to sell the weapons online, including ammunition, for a total of 11,200 euros. The two others were supposed to launder the money through a petrol station.

The case is now to be tried at the Stuttgart district court and it throws light on the dark underbelly of the Internet.

You can get anything and everything illegal on the internet from computer viruses to drugs and weapons. An online black market has been founded by criminals for whom it is easy to remain undetected in the so-called Darknet. This corner of the internet can only be reached through anonymous services such as Tor.

Tor users worldwide â€" Source: Stefano.desabbata

Criminals of the 21st century do not have to rob banks or go to clubs to sell their drugs or drive across the border to sell their weapons. They only have to smuggle malware onto someone’s computer or sell their wares at the black market of the digital underground.

The Internet is an uneven playing field. Investigators are fighting ghosts. Most of the time, the ghosts win. But sometimes, things turn out differently and investigators are able to take down a dealer or even an entire network.

But a dealer is only caught if he or she was careless and left visible traces. This was apparently what recently happened with the three Germans. The district attorney general was investigating several men who apparently dealt with weapons, weapon parts and ammunition. A raid in autumn of 2015 led to the discovery of emails on one of the defendant’s phones. These emails suggested that he bought assault rifles, converted them and sent them to a delivery address in Paris. The timing was conspicuous: it happened shortly before the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015.

The men were then suspected to have knowingly or unknowingly supplied the weapons for these attacks. But it soon emerged that evidence supporting these suspicions was not sufficient. The district attorney has stressed this point repeatedly. Despite the fact that the youngest of the defendants sent the assault rifles to a "non-existing drop site" in Paris it was never established whether the assault rifles ever reached Paris or, indeed, ever left Germany.

The three suspects have been in remand for months now and are expected to receive prison sentences of up to five years.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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