Telegram Billionaire’s Dark Empire

Telegram isn’t just a WhatsApp with different roots. The service touts itself as a platform that is beyond the reach of states and authorities.

This attracts conspiracy theorists, like Germany’s “Querdenker” movement, right-wing extremists, drug dealers and con artists. It doesn’t take much searching to find a “hit list” with the names of members of the German parliament on it. Counterfeiters use the app to peddle fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, dealers use it to sell all kinds of drugs. Crimes are openly and visibly planned and committed on Telegram. The app has become the equivalent of a darknet in your pocket.

The authorities are powerless, because Durov denies them access to user data. He has set up an opaque web of companies that is difficult to penetrate and makes government access even harder. The old and rarely true saying about the internet being a lawless place really does apply to Telegram. Durov has registered companies in the Virgin Islands and Belize. “Me myself, I’m not a big fan of the idea of countries,” he told the New York Times in 2014.

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