Prosecutors to charge 22 suspects in Telegram cannabis marketplace

Prosecutors to charge 22 suspects in Telegram cannabis marketplace

Police say they have completed their probe into Telegrass network, a month after arresting 42 suspected members in several countries

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

Police on Sunday said they had wrapped up their investigation into a mass cannabis distribution network, with prosecutors set to file charges against 22 suspects in the coming days.

Police last month effectively shut down virtual marijuana marketplace Telegrass, 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.

Prosecutors will request that those being charged remain in custody until the end of legal proceedings, police said in a statement.

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)

The network had thousands of dealers and tens of thousands of users, including minors, who could anonymously order drugs — largely cannabis but ranging to stronger substances such as cocaine and MDMA as well — with a few taps on a smartphone, police said last month when it made the arrests.

Employees were allegedly paid in cash, Bitcoin or drugs.

All the employees of Telegrass operated anonymously and the platform promised anonymity to clients as well, making use of Telegram’s strict privacy policy and message encryption. However, police said they were able to identify all of the network’s managers following a covert investigation that lasted several months.

Police accomplished that by 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.

The many sides of Amos Silver, founder of Telegrass. (Facebook)

In a statement, police said they suspect that dozens of tons of drugs worth hundreds of millions of shekels had been sold via Telegrass, which it branded a “crime syndicate for all intents and purposes.”

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.

Moshe Feiglin, who made pot legalization a central pillar of his Zehut party’s quasi-libertarian platform, failed to enter the Knesset in last week’s election despite opinion polls having given him four to seven seats in the weeks before the vote.

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