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Akel cries foul as AG remains tight lipped over dropping spy van charges

The spy van at the centre of the 2019 case

The attorney-general’s office on Tuesday said it had no comment on its decision a day earlier to drop all charges against three individuals in the case of the so-called ‘spy van’, while the main opposition party cried foul over the move.

“At this time, the Law Office of the Republic shall make no comment nor respond on the various issues being raised in relation to the case of the ‘black van’, given that legal proceedings are still pending before a court,” the brief statement read.

“It is expected that everyone else will hold the same stance, in accordance with the principles of law.”

On Monday the attorney-general moved to stay the prosecution of three of the four defendants: Tal Dilian, an Israeli national; Andreas Christoforou from Limassol; and Demetris Christodoulou from Trahoni.

The state prosecution announced its decision in Larnaca district court, on the same day that the three defendants were set to be referred to a criminal trial.

Charges were not dropped against the fourth defendant – a company by the name of Ws WiSpear Systems Limited. The company will go to a criminal hearing on November 30, when it’s due to enter a plea. If it enters a guilty plea, or is found guilty after a trial process, the company faces a fine.

News that the AG was effectively dropping the case irked main opposition party Akel, which had from the outset made a great deal of noise after the affair broke in late 2019.

The party hinted at a cover-up.

“Essentially the closure of the case is being engineered,” it said in a statement.

“The questions raised by Akel and by society remain unanswered, and the government cannot hide behind its legal counselor [the attorney-general].”

Akel said the case concerns “each and every citizen. It concerns the rule of law and national security. It concerns democracy and human rights in our country. This affair must be truly and fully solved.”

Combined, the defendants had faced some 90 counts on multiple charges – including unauthorised possession of surveillance gear, unlawful electronic interception and tapping, making false statements, processing of personal data, and conspiracy to commit a felony.

According to the original charge sheet, most of the illegal acts had been committed on dates in 2018 and 2019.

The company itself faces the charge of setting up an electronic device or system consisting of Wi-Fi access points, antennae, a computer, a modem and software; and that it was aware that this system was capable of being used to intercept private communications without the permission of the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority.

The company is accused of having used this device/system with the intent to intercept private communications – the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (Imsi) of 626 SIM cards used in mobile phone handsets.

An Imsi is a number that uniquely identifies every user of a cellular network.

But according to media reports, during the course of investigations no hard evidence came up showing that the company actually intercepted private communications. Europol experts had assisted local authorities.

Police here launched an investigation in November 2019 after Dilian, CEO of the company and an ex-intelligence officer, gave an interview to Forbes magazine essentially advertising his services, which included covert surveillance and eavesdropping, among others.

The van, a converted GMC ambulance, was said to be loaded with gear capable of hacking smart phones and intercepting electronic communications within a one-kilometre radius.

The owners claimed the van had not been active on Cypriot territory apart from field tests and demonstration purposes using only company-owned devices and under the guidelines and acknowledgement of local authorities.

The owner’s defence had said that the authorities were kept informed each time the van was moved and revealed that senior police officers, including from the drug squad, had been onboard at times.

 

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