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Opposition calls for spying investigation

The spy van at the centre of the 2019 case

Piggybacking on the ongoing spyware affair in Greece, opposition parties here on Tuesday demanded an investigation into allegations of surveillance of private communications, with the government in turn accusing its critics of seeking to manufacture a fake scandal.

MEP Dimitris Papadakis called a news conference in Nicosia, where he called on authorities to “fully investigate the case of the phone taps”.

Papadakis claimed a Cyprus connection to the affair in Greece – where the phone of an opposition leader was apparently bugged – as the company using the Predator spyware has its headquarters on the island. He said the same company – which Papadakis did not name but is understood to be Intellexa – is also “directly related” to the so-called spy van affair that broke out in late 2019.

The spy van case went to court, but the attorney-general subsequently dropped all charges against the three defendants – one of whom was Tal Dilian, an ex-Israeli intelligence officer.

Responding to questions, the MEP said he did not have specific information, but that it is the police’s job to find out.

On whether he himself believes he has been monitored, Papadakis said that was his sense, although he could not prove it.

The key issue at stake, he stressed, is whether in Cyprus there exists a protocol governing the sale and use of spyware.

“To ask plainly – can anyone buy this software, as one would off a supermarket shelf?”

The politician speculated that Cyprus could even be subject to EU sanctions. For that reason, authorities here should be proactive and investigate thoroughly.

“We are speaking of a serious accusation related to violation of civil liberties,” he noted.

Papadakis said that whereas all states have surveillance capabilities for national security reasons, “the real question is whether there exists a framework, a boundary, where does it start and where does it end, that is to say, procedures.

“Do these boundaries exist in Cyprus, or can anyone go to such a company, buy this type of software, and monitor anyone?”

In response to another question, Papadakis said he is personally acquainted with Nikos Androulakis – a fellow MEP and the leader of Greece’s socialist Pasok party who claims his phone was tapped – but added this is a broader matter of defending people’s right to privacy.

Chiming in, former House speaker Yiannakis Omirou separately released a statement demanding the government appoint independent criminal investigators.

According to Omirou, the spy van case was the “precursor of what has come to light in Greece”.

The company Intellexa does conduct business in Greece, but has its HQ in Cyprus, he added.

Meantime main opposition Akel continued to clobber the government, whom it again accused of covering up the spy van case.

Akel spokesman Giorgos Koukoumas said the government is “trying to downplay our country’s connection to the surveillance in Greece”.

He also asked why, to this day, the attorney-general’s office refuses to give a straight answer on why they dropped the charges in the spy van case.

“Either the government is neck-deep in the surveillance affair, or it does not comprehend the derailment of democracy and institutions, or both.”

Hitting back, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos waved off the criticism as petty politics.

There is no link between Cyprus and the affair in Greece, the spokesman asserted in a written statement.

“As such, any attempt to expose our country with facts which bear no relation to the software provided either by companies based in Cyprus or elsewhere, amounts to nothing but unacceptable and censurable populism which, without substantiation, drags our country through the mud.

“We wish to categorically state that never, during the nine years of President Anastasiades’ administration, was the monitoring of any political person, political party, journalist, media or law-abiding citizen permitted or tolerated.”

In Greece, the reveals about phone tapping have led to the resignation of the head of the intelligence service.

In June the alleged target, Androulakis, had used a special service set up by the European Parliament to check phones for spyware or attempts to install it. The initiative was introduced after other hacks that used spyware similar to Predator, called Pegasus.

According to a report by Toronto University’s Citizen Lab, which tracks the spyware industry, Androulakis was sent a link that was a trap to allow the installation of Predator. Androulakis did not respond to the invitation and so managed to avoid being bugged.

Athens says authorities don’t use the Predator spyware, which was reportedly deployed against members of the European Parliament, and that the Greek government does not deal with businesses that sell it.

A December 2021 report (https://citizenlab.ca/2021/12/pegasus-vs-predator-dissidents-doubly-infected-iphone-reveals-cytrox-mercenary-spyware/) by Citizen Lab said Predator was developed by a company called Cytrox, whereas Pegasus is manufactured by the NSO Group.

The report quoted a 2019 article in Forbes, which stated that “Cytrox was ‘rescued’ by Tal Dilian, a former Israel Defence Forces Unit 81 commander, whose company WiSpear (which appears to have been renamed Passitora Ltd.) is based in Limassol, Cyprus and reportedly acquired Cytrox in 2018 according to the Atooro Fund.

“Dilian is also known as the founder of Circles, a prominent cellular network surveillance company. In December 2020, the Citizen Lab published an investigation into Circles’ government clients. Dilian is also the founder and CEO of Intellexa.”

Citizen Lab went on to say: “Cytrox is part of the so-called ‘Intellexa alliance’, a marketing label for a range of mercenary surveillance vendors that emerged in 2019. The consortium of companies includes Nexa Technologies (formerly Amesys), WiSpear/Passitora Ltd., Cytrox, and Senpai, along with other unnamed entities, purportedly seeking to compete against other players in the cyber surveillance market such as NSO Group and Verint.

“Originally based in Cyprus, a recent report indicates that Intellexa now operates from Greece, which is also listed as the LinkedIn location of its founder, Dilian. A preliminary review of corporate registry documentation suggests that the alliance has a corporate presence in not only Greece (Intellexa S.A.), but also in Ireland (Intellexa Limited).”

A search for Intellexa on the website of the Cyprus Registrar of Companies comes up with a hit, but clicking on it shows the company has since been de-listed.

Passitora Ltd still exists as an active entity, with its registered office located in Nicosia at 7 Doritheou Street, Para Building Block B, Flat/Office B 101, postal code 1071.

The company officials are listed as Tal Jonathan Dilian (director) and Georgios Georgiou (secretary).

 

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