Prosecutors charge 27 suspects in Telegram cannabis marketplace

Prosecutors charge 27 suspects in Telegram cannabis marketplace

Indictment alleges managers of marijuana distribution network were knowingly involved, and sometimes even encouraged sale of drugs to minors

A screenshot of a Telegrass marijuana menu. (Screenshot)
A screenshot of a Telegrass marijuana menu. (Screenshot)

Prosecutors on Thursday filed indictments against 27 people suspected of involvement in a mass cannabis distribution network known as Telegrass.

Police last month effectively shut down the virtual marijuana marketplace, which operated on the Telegram messaging application, with the arrest of 42 suspected members in Israel, the United States, Ukraine and Germany, including founder Amos Dov Silver.

Legal proceedings were still underway to extradite Silver, who was arrested in Ukraine.

The suspects have been charged with various crimes including drug trafficking, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possession of drugs other than for personal consumption, obstruction of justice, money laundering and tax evasion. The prosecution requested that 22 of the 27 suspects remain behind bars until the end of proceedings against them.

According to the indictment, the network’s managers worked to hide their revenues through use of digital currencies such as Bitcoin.

In this file photo taken on March 20, 2018, the website of the Telegram messaging app is seen on a computer’s screen in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

While the drug most prominently sold on Telegrass was marijuana, the indictment stated that other, more serious drugs including LSD and MDMA were also marketed.

The State Prosecutor’s Office estimated that hundreds of millions of shekels were circulated through the network over the past two years, with the suspects mediating between more than 3,000 drug seller and some 200,000 buyers, pocketing roughly NIS 30 million ($8.36 million) in the process.

Police questioned 90 individuals during their year-long investigation, 50 of them as suspects. They received assistance from law enforcement agencies in the United States, Germany, Ukraine, Romania, France and the Netherlands.

Police had a breakthrough in their investigation after operating an agent who worked for the network and gathered evidence, Channel 13 reported.

In February 2018, the full list of some 3,500 Telegrass dealers was leaked online, including names, personal details and incriminating videos.

Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop. Recreational use of the drug remains illegal, though politicians — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said they would consider relaxing enforcement.

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