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Supreme court chides police over spy-van arrest warrant

The van at the centre of the case

The supreme court has cancelled an arrest warrant used by police to detain an Israeli businessman in connection with an investigation into the operation of a van equipped to carry out covert surveillance, censuring the police for failing to disclose all the facts relating to the case.

Police arrested the 47-year-old man Larnaca airport on June 2 after he arrived from abroad. The warrant against him had been issued in December 2019.

Shahak Avraham Avni, the owner of a security-services provider, was questioned at the airport and released soon after to be summoned at a later date.

Avni, who is not directly connected to the company that owns the van, appealed the warrant, arguing that police had failed to disclose his cooperation with the authorities and the fact that they had nothing linking him to the case.

According to the court decision, the police had also failed to tell the court when requesting the warrant, that they knew about the spy van’s movements.

The supreme court said the offences in question were serious “but this does not lessen the need to justify the issuance of the warrant”.

Police secured the warrant while the man was abroad; he had left the island after the first investigations took place and no warrant had been sought.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that he had abandoned the country.

The applicant, through his staff, helped the police and provided investigators with anything they sought, the court said.

“This was especially important in the first days of the investigations when the first search warrants were executed,” the court said.

The man had offered to return to Cyprus provided he was not detained but it was rejected by the authorities because of the attached condition.

The court said the police had failed to set all the facts before the court relating to his readiness and willingness to cooperate.

“Also not disclosed, was that the vehicle in question informed the police and the authorities of its movements, which were completely lawful,” the court said. “It had not been disclosed that the Larnaca and Famagusta police directors were informed via email … and in two occasions when trials were being carried out, police officers were on board, a drug squad officer in one case, and a secret service officer in the other.”

The investigation into the affair started in November last year after Israeli national Tal Dillian, an ex-intelligence officer, gave an interview to Forbes essentially advertising his services, which included covert surveillance and eavesdropping.

During the interview, Larnaca-based Dillian exhibited the capabilities of a van that was decked out with gear capable of hacking smart phones and intercepting electronic communications within a one-kilometre radius.

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