Israel Police Arrest Top Members of Telegrass Online Drug Ring

Suspects ran a highly organized drug network that operated like a crime organization and allegedly sold ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana to Israelis, including minors

FILE Photo: A medical marijuana greenhouse in Israel's north, March 27, 2016.
AFP

The Israel Police arrested Tuesday morning 42 people on suspicion that they are running the "Telegrass" drug distribution online network, which is managed through the Telegram application. 

In addition to selling drugs such as marijuana, hashish, cocaine and ecstasy, those arrested are suspected of running an organized crime ring, money laundering and tax offenses, police said.

The suspects will be brought before judges in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court and Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday for hearings as prosecutors seek to extend their remands.

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Some of the suspects were arrested overseas, including the alleged leader of the crime ring, who was arrested in Ukraine. The police said that every member of the Telegrass ring had a specific job and was paid in cash, bitcoin or with drugs, while disguising the source of the money.

Telegrass, which the police call “crime organization 420” in their investigation, was a properly run business, they say. The leaders had titles such as “chief financial officer,” “vice president for infrastructure” and “vice president of operations.” A number of those arrested were allegedly responsible for specific drugs, such as the “head of the psychedelics branch.” The organization also had its own unit for internal oversight and a spokesperson's department, said police.

Minors also bought drugs through Telegrass, police said. During the raids conducted at the same time as the arrests, the police found money, drugs and technology used by the group to run the drug ring over the internet.

Telegrass is suspected of selling hundreds of millions of shekels and tens of tons of drugs over the years.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was considering decriminalizing, or even possibly legalizing, marijuana. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon also announced he would act to erase the criminal records of those convicted of using marijuana in the past. MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, the head of the Gesher party, said that if appointed health minister after the election, she would act to make the provision of medical marijuana more efficient.

In July 2018, the Knesset passed a government-sponsored bill making it no longer a crime to possess marijuana for personal use. The law was approved as an emergency act for three years in order to examine its implementation and implications. The law will not apply to minors, soldiers or prisoners – as well as those who have committed an additional crime at the same time. The change is scheduled to take effect next month.

Under the new law, the punishment for using marijuana will be a fine of 1,000 shekels ($275). If a person is caught using marijuana a second time – within five years from the first occurrence – the fine will be 2,000 shekels.