Dope-dealing ring on messaging app busted in Israel
JERUSALEM – Israeli police said Tuesday that undercover officers had broken up a drug-dealing network that used a popular messaging app and had connections in the United States, Ukraine and Germany.
“After several months of covert investigation 42 suspects were this morning detained in Israel and abroad for questioning under caution on suspicions of trafficking various types of drugs,” a police statement said.
It said the transactions amounted to “hundreds of millions” of Israeli shekels (tens of millions of dollars/euros).
The suspects, the statement added, traded through the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
Police designated the ring “Crime Organization 420” and published its organizational chart, with one person at its head and a hierarchy of executives for finance, infrastructure, security and development, among others.
The statement did not give any names and did not link the suspects to the Israeli drug marketplace Telegrass, which uses Telegram.
Israeli public radio, however, said that Telegrass founder Amos Dov Silver was among those arrested.
The radio said that the suspects allegedly dealt not only in marijuana but also ecstasy and cocaine.
It said that Silver, a dual Israel-US citizen resident in the United States, was arrested in Ukraine and Israel would request his extradition.
The Telegrass website carried a message in Hebrew on Tuesday describing it as a “black day”.
“Hope you never know how much it hurts to get up in the morning to find out that your friends have been arrested,” it said.
“That their homes were turned upside down, that they were treated worse than animals, that their little children were frightened in the middle of the night with dogs and violent shouts.”
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Wages for staff and managers of the organization were transferred in cash, in bitcoins, or drugs, while concealing the source of the funds,” the police statement said.
Officers of the Israeli police cyber-crime unit worked with Ukrainian, US and German law enforcement, it added.
Telegrass has let sellers list their wares and prices, exchanging self-deleting messages with buyers to set up deliveries.
“We don’t know exactly how many people are using the platform, however we have over 100,000 registered users,” Silver told AFP in an online chat in 2017.
Silver described himself as a marijuana legalization activist who was not in it for financial gain.
Some politicians have taken up the issue of marijuana legalization ahead of Israel’s April 9 polls, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday night that he might consider it.
“I have led some changes in this area,” he said on his Likud party’s YouTube video channel.
“We have increased the use of medical cannabis, bringing Israel to one of the highest levels in the world.”
Asked about legalization in general, he replied: “I’m checking your question. I’ll give you an answer soon.” / gsg
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