Cut the Middleman, Get your (illegal) Bling on the Darknet
September 18th, 2016
An IntSights intelligence analyst has uncovered a store selling discounted diamonds, raw gold and rhino horns, from dubious suppliers who do not abide to international labor standards.
Trading African mined and harvested goods has occurred since the days of the Roman Empire. Business boomed in the 15th-19th centuries due to the African slave trade in the United States. With the abolition of slavery at the beginning of the 19th century, trade shifted to minerals, metals and organic goods, such as wildlife and timber. Whilst such commerce has, financially, been extremely kind to foreign nations and individuals, it has fuelled local conflicts. These conflicts are often violent, thanks in part to interested foreign parties, who enable locals to purchase modern weaponry, allowing them to further exploit the continent’s resources.
Following some extremely violent conflicts (civil wars in Ruanda, Cote' d'Ivoire and Congo) at the end of the 20th century, international bodies have increased their oversight and toughened up regulations regarding the gold, diamond and wildlife trades. These measures have reduced the distribution of “Conflict” (blood diamonds) and stopped nearly all “legal” trade of wildlife or wildlife related products (goods derived from rhinos, and elephant ivory).
Wherever there’s a commercial incentive, however, traders will find a way to dodge international laws. Illegal trafficking is responsible for a steady flow of wildlife products, gold and diamonds out of Africa via “traditional” means. Pope Francis got involved in 2015 when he warned against Africa’s illegal trade in diamonds and other precious resources, which support criminal activity and terrorism while undermining political stability
Illegal trade is conducted mainly disguising the goods, using dubious shipping companies to transport them to trading hubs, such as Vietnam or China, where they are distributed to local stores who sell the goods from “back rooms”. This process has not changed much since the 15th century, following the same ‘Hunt/Mine, Ship, Sell’ format. Lately, however, it appears that this criminal world is undergoing a technological evolution, elevating it to the same level as narcotics trafficking.
Cyber intelligence analysts from IntSights have identified that a new type of store has emerged on the Darknet. “Africa Products” sells “discounted diamonds, raw gold and rhino horns” directly to consumers. The site does not “abide to international labor standards” and their “employees work for food, water & housing. They are given no further compensation. We are able to gather and sell our products so cheaply because the manpower we use costs close to nothing”. The site acknowledges the immoral aspects of its business, assuring buyers that it transfers profits directly to African “cities, towns and villages” and that they “encourage our managers and suppliers to be ethical when it does not interfere with profits”. The site ships to most countries, with the exception of Chile, Israel, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and promises to disguise the goods so as to fool customs. Payment is conducted through Bitcoins and is retained until the customer verifies that they have received the shipment.
Putting aside questions of morality, “African Products” adopt a novel approach. In many other industries, selling directly to consumers online has been proven to cut costs and enable businesses to transfer a generous share of the profits directly to the manufacturers, thus bypassing international corporations and corrupt governments. It was only a matter of time before a savvy entrepreneur leveraged this online sales model, and the secrecy of the Darknet, to generate business. It is possible that this business mode, if it is able to move great quantities of goods, could accelerate ever-nearing extinction of the rhino population, worsen the labor condition of miners and fuel future violent conflicts.
On the other hand, this can be seen as an accomplishment of international efforts working to curb these trades. Desperate to move their products, illegal traders are forced to be innovative and search for new distribution models in order to survive.
We've attempted to contact the site's administrators and verify it's authenticity. They did respond quickly but declined to send samples or verify that they will actually send the goods upon payment.
This post was written by IntSights Intelligence Analyst, Nethanel Ribco.
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