Police arrest leaders of massive Israeli drug distribution network

Telegrass, which is used through the encrypted messaging application Telegram, is estimated to have over 100,000 members and earn a monthly revenue of NIS 60 million.

An employee tends to a freshly-harvested medical cannabis plant at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An employee tends to a freshly-harvested medical cannabis plant at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Israel Police arrested 42 suspects for drug trafficking via the mass cannabis distribution network Telegrass on Tuesday, effectively halting one of the Jewish state’s largest drug sale operations.
Telegrass is run on the instant-messaging app Telegram. The network has been the target of a months-long undercover investigation by the Israel Police. Local authorities said they worked with foreign law enforcement agencies, including in the United States, Ukraine and Germany. As such, some of the people arrested were caught abroad.
The arrests were mainly of chief and other executive-level personnel, such the network’s founder, Amos Dov Silver – an Israeli-American who was living in the US to avoid Israeli prosecution; he was arrested in Ukraine. Arrests were also made in Germany and the US.
The organization consists of dozens of administrators from various senior ranks, thousands of dealers, and is estimated to have more than 100,000 members. Telegrass monthly earnings were reported at around NIS 60 million.
Police said that those arrested are being accused of offenses involving the management and financing of a criminal organization, trading and supplying dangerous drugs within the framework of a criminal organization, and other related offenses. Employees were paid either with cash, bitcoin, drugs or other means that could help camouflage the source, police said.
The investigation is being conducted by Lahav 433, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI.
The accused will be remanded in the Nazareth and Rishon Lezion Magistrates’ Court on Sunday. Police said they seek to extend the detention of those arrested until the completion of the investigation.
Telegrass sells not only marijuana but also MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), LSD, cocaine and other illegal drugs.
The online company took to social media on Tuesday, calling the arrest of its executives a “black morning” for the network, posting that “their homes were turned upside down, that they were treated worse than animals, [and] that their children were frightened in the middle of the night with dogs and violent shouts.”
The arrests came one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Likud TV that he would investigate legalizing marijuana, and on the same day that Labor leader Avi Gabbay admitted in a radio interview that he himself had smoked pot.
“I am now looking into the matter you brought up,” Netanyahu said when asked about cannabis. “I will give you an answer soon. It is possible that it will happen.”
Zehut, led by former Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, has picked up steam in the polls after making legalization of marijuana a centerpiece of his campaign.
While recreational use of marijuana is illegal in Israel, the previous government helped relax regulations on medical marijuana for patients, passing a law to enable more cannabis farming and export.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said that “when we started the struggle for legalization, we were told it’s delusional, and like every struggle Meretz starts... it ended up a leading trend. We are proud to continue to lead and praise the political spectrum for joining us.”