Authorities said on Monday they are looking into all facets of the ‘spy van’ operated by a company owned by an ex-Israeli intelligence officer, as main opposition Akel hinted there is much more to the affair than meets the eye and cautioned against a whitewash.
Speaking to reporters, justice minister Giorgos Savvides said police are investigating all angles.
“We have legislation in place that covers every aspect, from less serious to more serious crimes, and I’m positive that through the professionalism and seriousness of the investigations, by both the police and other departments, findings will be made and assessed based on the legal framework.”
He declined to go into further detail, citing the sensitive nature of the matter.
Police would relay their findings to the attorney-general, who has the final say on whether an investigation warrants opening a criminal case.
Police earlier seized the van, a converted GMC ambulance, reportedly loaded with gear capable of hacking smart phones and intercepting electronic communications within a one-kilometre radius.
It was showcased in a Forbes report and video released months ago but which only recently went viral in Cyprus.
The vehicle is owned by Ws Wispear Systems Limited, registered in Cyprus on January 23, 2013. Among its directors is Tal Dilian, an ex-commander in the Special Operations Unit of the Intelligence Corps in the Israeli Defence Force, a department comparable to the US’s National Security Agency (NSA).
Dilian is the same person interviewed by Forbes.
It turns out that Intellexa, the company mentioned in the Forbes report, is a placeholder name. Though Intellexa does comes up in a search of the registrar of companies, it is a de-listed company.
Phone tapping is illegal in Cyprus though written communications can be intercepted under certain circumstances – but only with a court order.
For his part, police chief Kypros Michaelides likewise declined comment on reports that the company in question may have been offering its services to the police force.
Michaelides also dodged a question as to whether – again according to media reports – the van had been declared as a mobile weather station while going through customs.
He did confirm that a person associated with the company, Ws Wispear, was issued with a permit to carry a firearm, but added that “all legal procedures” were followed.
The law states that no citizen can carry firearms unless he is a member of the police, the army or the prison department.
In order to be able to carry a firearm, one has to be registered as a special police officer and be approved by both the cabinet and by the chief of police.
Only once approved can a person then be able to carry a firearm, as he would have been deemed “not a threat to society”.
So far, police have confirmed their investigation relates to potential data privacy violations.
The government meantime gave assurances the matter will be thoroughly investigated.
“The president is particularly sensitive when it comes to respect for privacy, safety and personal data,” government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said in a written statement.
He recalled that the government has tabled new legislation governing the protection of personal communications.
Main opposition party Akel said it was taking a wait-and-see approach until police investigations are finished.
“We know a great deal, far more than what we say in public…” stated party leader Andros Kyprianou.
“The information coming to us is extremely alarming, about who is implicated in this process, or what contacts took place during the last years,” he added.
“When a vehicle with equipment worth €9m is out on the streets, and Cyprus being the small place that it is, our suspicions are roused as to what it was doing and how it operated. We expect the government to provide convincing answers.”
Akel panned the government spokesman for beating about the bush, and again sought precise details on the following: what kind of licence was granted to the company; who granted or issued the licenses; the nature of the company’s activities; and when exactly the van was imported.
Ws Wispear have denied breaking the law and said they are confident that the allegations against them will be dismissed.
“The company rejects all accusations made in the Cypriot press and is confident that these claims will be very shortly dismissed. The company has at all times respected and complied with the laws of the Republic,” read a statement released on November 17 by the company’s lawyers Pelecanos & Pelecanou LLC.
It’s understood the Forbes video on the ‘spy van’ was noticed here and circulated on social media last Wednesday or Thursday, grabbing attention. Local media then picked up the story.
With warrant in hand, police officers on Friday evening visited the company’s premises in Larnaca, seizing the vehicle as well as ‘other evidence’ from the offices.
On Sunday, police returned with a new warrant, taking into custody additional items and documents.
The police are tight-lipped about the material they have seized from Ws Wispear.
Sources told the Cyprus Mail they have reason to believe that during the first police visit on Friday the company resisted giving up its computers, containing data.
This could be crucial, said the same sources, who preferred to remain anonymous.