Judge: Confusing Case Against a Dark Web Forum Owner is “New Territory”
As the trial for the sole owner and creator of the German dark web forum “Germany in the Deep Web” begins, courts and government officials are questioning the appropriate level of guilt for the defendant’s failure to prevent a forum user from killing people. Even the presiding judge told the court that the case was completely new territory and that sentencing guidelines in such a case are currently unknown.
Months after German law enforcement caught the dark web firearm vendor responsible for the gun sale that led to the so-called “Munich massacre,” the German Federal Criminal Police Office in Baden-Württemberg launched an investigation into the owner of the largest dark web discussion forum primarily intended for use by Germans. The forum, “Deutschland im Deep Web“ (Germany in the Deep Web), existed primarily as a discussion forum but had dedicated subforums for forum users to buy, sell, and trade various products. Many considered the forum a discussion forum that allowed sales. However, some dark web vendors sold to buyers in Germany through the forum exclusively. And some buyers used Germany in the Deep Web as their sole dark web “marketplace.”
Due to the creator’s relatively relaxed rules, Germany in the Deep Web became the primary platform for German gun dealers who wanted to meet customers through the dark web. In Germany, the forum owner—a 31-year-old from Karlsruhe known as “luckyspax” on the forum—has been compared to a more recent version of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road. Like Ulbricht, the 31-year-old founded his hidden service with an agenda separate from any potential financial gain; the forum owner believed that everyone needed an outlet to say or write without government intervention. The forum was not without moderation. The content and topics usually banned on hidden services were also prohibited on Germany in the Deep Web.
Alexandre Cazes, the founder of Alphabay, was charged in connection with the crimes committed by ALphabay users. This included firearms charges and a variety of illegal substance and drug trafficking conspiracy and trafficking charges. Cazes committed suicide prior to extradition to the United States and was never convicted of any of the charges listed in the indictment. However, Cazes did not personally commit many of the charges in the indictment in the same way that the owner of Germany in the Deep Web never personally committed the crimes he faces in Germany. In Cazes’ case, the government could likely prove Cazes had committed many of the charges such as money laundering and some of the conspiracy charges. And given that Cazes had allegedly created Alphabay with the intent to facilitate illegal transactions, the government could possibly prove all the charges in the indictment.
Luckyspax’s case has some differences. After his arrest and the seizure of his forum, the Mannheim prosecutor accused the 31-year-old of violating drug and firearm trafficking laws. Later, after the courts had allowed the man’s pretrial release, the prosecutor came back at the 31-year-old with negligent homicide and negligent assault charges in connection with the Munich massacre. But unlike similar cases and similar charges, the negligent homicide and negligent assault charges are for not going far enough to prevent something like the Munich massacre from occurring. Prosecutors have said that Luckyspax should have been aware that allowing users to sell firearms could result in the loss of life. The weapon vendor who sold the gun to the shooter was charged for the same crimes, save for any drug charges. That case was different, too; investigators proved that the vendor had known what the customer had planned to do with the guns.
The forum owner has admitted that he had created and owned the forum. No evidence of other owners exists, according to the prosecution. Some of the moderators are free, active, and vocal on their relaunched version of Luckyspax’s forum. At this time, though, their version of the forum has only recently reached 1,000 users. Luckyspax, according to prosecutors, had a membership of more than 23,000 users prior to his arrest. Prosecutors have accused him of not properly establishing rules that would have prevented the shooting in Munich. The gun and drug charges have hardly been disputed to the same degree as the negligent homicide and assault.
Over a period of eight days in November, the 31-year-old will be arguing his innocence in Karlsruhe District Court. Even the judge is not quite clear of what a guilty verdict will bring.