Telegrass founder greeted with cheers as court orders his remand

The founder of a virtual marijuana marketplace was greeted by cheering supporters as he was brought before a court on Sunday following his extradition to Israel.

Amos Dov Silver was taken into custody after arriving early Sunday morning in Israel from Ukraine, where he was arrested in March at the request of Israeli police.

Silver, who is accused of founding and running the Telegrass application, briefly escaped from Ukrainian police on Friday as he was brought to the airport to be extradited. He was caught a day later.

As he was escorted into the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing, supporters gave Silver a standing ovation, with some chanting his name.

The court ordered Silver’s remand for 12 days after police requested 15, with the judge saying he was a flight risk.

Silver was largely silent in response to reporters’ questions. Turning to one of his police escorts, he said, “The day will come when I’ll tell them everything.”

Telegrass, a sprawling forum that used the Telegram messaging app to connect drug dealers and consumers, was shut down in March and dozens of people connected to it, including Silver, were arrested in Israel, the United States, Ukraine and Germany, authorities said.

On Friday, Silver was taken to Kiev’s Boryspil airport to be flown to Israel after he had exhausted appeals to stop his extradition when he managed to slip away from his guards and escape. Following a day-long manhunt, Israeli and Ukrainian police announced Saturday he had been nabbed and the extradition would go ahead.

According to Israeli police, Silver was caught in Uman, a city south of Kiev popular among Jewish pilgrims as 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.

His lawyer told the channel Saturday that he was a US citizen. The attorney, Uri Corb, also alleged that his client had been beaten by police from Ukraine’s SBU security service, and he was appealing for help from Washington and Jerusalem.

In a statement announcing Silver’s capture, the SBU said it had detained three of its own employees suspected of helping Silver escape.

In April, prosecutors filed indictments against 27 people, including Silver, suspected of involvement in Telegrass. The charges include 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.

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, and pocketing roughly NIS 30 million ($8.36 million) in the process.

In the years before his arrest, Silver 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.

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.

AFP contributed to this report.

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