The Telegram messaging service has been banned in Russia. Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic
The Telegram messaging service is becoming more and more popular, especially in Asia. Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

The numbers, very much like the story that sits behind them, are nothing less than astounding.

Pavel Duvov, the 33-year-old Russian maverick billionaire who is both a big-canvas entrepreneur and laptop-hugging software developer, started pre-sales of his Gram coin in January with the aim of raising a stupefying $1.2 billion to launch a “Telegram Open Network “ (TON) platform. It was, and remains, the largest crypto fundraiser to date.

TON promised a bespoke, state-of-the art “third generation” blockchain network that would carry a raft of interconnected payment, trading and storage services. The plan claimed that these services would monetize Duvov’s Telegram messaging app and its ever-growing network, that currently has about 200 million members and 70 billion-plus daily messages. The ICO, said Telegram, would fund the launch of “a decentralized counterpart to everyday money.”

Put crudely, it’s as if Facebook, the US Fed and IBM were merged into a singular touch-screen interface.

Many have said the reason that Telegram has become so rapidly popular is because, quite simply, it is not American and it has become very popular with people from political and financial establishments outside of the West, particularly in Russia and Iran.

But last month a Moscow court banned Telegram, saying it was the messenger of choice for “international terrorist organizations in Russia.” And last week the judiciary in Tehran banned it too, saying it was “spreading lies to incite public opinion, anti-government protests and pornography.”

And now the tale turns again. According to the Wall Street Journal, the public sale for the Gram token has been canceled.

The Journal reports that Telegram has already netted $1.7 billion from less than 200 private investors. And while Telegram will not at this time confirm or deny anything – and why would they, with more than a billion of other peoples’ money in their pocket? – the speculation is that Duvov and his tightly-knit team have already got enough funds to carry out their grand plans so they don’t need a public fundraiser. But also, and perhaps more importantly, by staying private, Telegram will also be able to shield itself from the increasing global regulatory pressures that ICO launches are facing from governments across the world.

Industry mouthpiece TechCrunch previously reported that the private Gram sale – that was invite-only, cash-only (tellingly, no cryptos accepted) and accredited investor-only – required a minimum investment of $20 million.

All the numbers here are, by anybody’s estimation, gargantuan. And this sort of investor, mere mortals would presume, should know what they are doing.

So is this the start of a highly-profitable financial and commercial revolution? Or the world’s biggest-ever and cleverest confidence trick?

Only time will tell.

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