Telegrass founder nabbed in Ukraine after slipping police
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Telegrass founder nabbed in Ukraine after slipping police

SBU security service says cannabis kingpin Amos Dov Silver soon to be extradited to Israel; announces 3 of its employees detained for helping him escape

Telegrass founder Amos Dov Silver speaks in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster aired on July 20, 2019, from where he was being held under arrest in Ukraine. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Telegrass founder Amos Dov Silver speaks in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster aired on July 20, 2019, from where he was being held under arrest in Ukraine. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Ukraine said Saturday it had captured the Israeli-American founder of a major online-marijuana marketplace, a day after he escaped while being extradited to the Jewish state.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said it had found Amos Dov Silver in “one of the regions of our country” and said he would be extradited to Israel “in the near future.”

The SBU also said it had detained three of its own employees suspected of helping Silver escape Kiev’s Boryspil airport during the process of his extradition.

In a statement on Saturday, Israeli police said they had cooperated with Ukrainian counterparts in Silver’s arrest, saying he was found in Uman, a city in central Ukraine popular among Jewish pilgrims for being the burial place of the founder of the Breslov Hasidic dynasty.

According to Channel 12 news, Silver was planning on fleeing to the US and intended to spend two days in Uman before crossing into Moldova on Sunday.

The network reported a member of the Jewish community Silver was staying with recognized the Telegrass founder and contacted Ukrainian police, who arrested him in a joint operation with the Israel Police.

On Friday, Israel Police said Kiev notified it that Silver had “escaped his Ukrainian escorts.”

Kiev prosecutor’s office said that he was at the city’s Boryspil airport bound for Israel when he escaped from his security service guards and “disappeared.”

The Haaretz daily reported that Israel intended to send a law enforcement official to accompany Silver on the journey to Israel, but failed to send one in time for his Friday morning flight.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Amos Dov Silver‎‏ ב- יום שלישי, 9 באפריל 2019

In April, prosecutors filed indictments against 27 people suspected of involvement in Telegrass. Police 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 Silver.

The suspects were 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.

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

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 sellers and some 200,000 buyers, pocketing roughly NIS 30 million ($8.36 million) in the process.

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

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

Young Israelis protest for the legalization of marijuana outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 20, 2014. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

In the years before his arrest, Silver, the Telegrass founder, was an activist for cannabis legalization, including organizing The Big Bong Night in 2014 — an audacious cannabis legalization protest in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem.

In March, Silver wrote a letter to the Israel Police from his Ukrainian prison, saying, “You can break my spirit and maybe even destroy my soul, but you are making a terrible mistake. The distorted and bizarre picture that you are trying to paint, while violating and trampling on my basic rights in order to have me convicted of a crime I never committed, [is destined to fail].”

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 the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.

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