Israel Police on Tuesday arrested 42 people as part of a sting operation aimed at smashing up an online marijuana distribution network known as "Telegrass." The network operates through the popular cloud-based, encrypted, instant messaging application Telegram.
Detectives from the Lahav 433 crime unit, known as the "Israeli FBI," conducted a wave of arrests against key figures in Telegrass on Tuesday morning. The head of the network was among those detained and was arrested on a visit to Ukraine. Arrests were also made in Germany and the United States.
The police said the suspects are accused of offenses involving the “management and financing of a criminal organization, trading and supplying dangerous drugs within the framework of a criminal organization, mediation of dangerous drug activities within the framework of a criminal organization, conspiracy to commit crimes within the framework of a criminal organization, tax offenses and other offenses."
Telegrass reportedly has over 100,000 members in Israel, including dozens of cannabis suppliers. The network enables instant anonymous cannabis delivery, and has an option for users to review the vendors and their products.
The police also said that most of the suspects allegedly belong to the highest echelons of the organization including its head, three deputies and other administrators. The investigation is being conducted by Lahav 433, the national cybercrime unit and the central unit of the Northern District in cooperation with the tax authorities and the cyber crimes and international crimes departments at the State Prosecutor's Office.
According to police, the operation was carried out in cooperation with the Organized Crime and Corruption Division of the security services in Ukraine and other enforcement bodies in the United States and Germany.
"This is an international affair dealing with the operations of a crime organization with an infrastructure network for drugs and other crimes in Israel and around the world,” the police said.
According to the police, the network operators behaved like a criminal organization and have engaged in the trade of dangerous drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, in addition to huge quantities of marijuana and hashish. Payments to the cannabis vendors was via untraceable cash, drugs or Bitcoin. Police have also uncovered and confiscated various sums of cash and technological devices used for the crimes.
The accused will be remanded at the Nazareth and Rishon Lezion Magistrates’ Court on Sunday and the police seek to extend their detention for the purpose of the investigation.
Attorneys for the suspects say that their clients deny involvement in the affair.
The arrests come a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would look into potentially legalizing marijuana, an issue which has been gaining momentum recently.
Recreational use of marijuana is illegal in Israel, but its possession was recently decriminalized. Since first legalized in the early nineties, medical marijuana is becoming increasingly available in the country and private companies are working to make Israel a major exporter of the crop. The Israel Defense Forces uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in its soldiers.