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Deputy AG rejects claims of cover-up in spyware case

Deputy Attorney-General Savvas Angelides

Deputy Attorney-general Savvas Angelides on Wednesday denied accusations of an alleged cover-up in the 2019 ‘black van’ spyware scandal which returned to the news after the spyware affair in Greece.

The Attorney-general’s office had faced an onslaught from opposition politicians on Tuesday for dropping the charges against the three defendants, one of whom was Tal Dilian, an Israeli ex-intelligence officer, whose company was involved in the the spy van case of 2019 in Cyprus.

In a written statement, Angelides stressed that the facts of the investigated case of the ‘black van’ were in no way linked to the use of any software system in the incident in Greece, which he said was “irrelevant” to the whole issue concerning the case of the ‘black van’ in Cyprus.

Angelides proceeded to list the facts of the Cyprus ‘black van’ case in an effort to “to give the correct dimension of the facts of the case and to correct any false impressions that have been, intentionally or not, created.”

One of the persistent questions of opposition politicians was why the attorney-general’s office had failed give a clear explanation as to why the ‘black van’ case was dropped.

Angelides noted that the investigative work was extensive, complex and time-consuming precisely because of the number, type and nature of the seized items. “All documents received by the police were subject to specialised forensic examination, both by police experts and by a private expert specialising in telecommunication systems/networks and in intertwined security issues,” he explained.

Angelides added that in addition to this, the electronic data extracted from the seized equipment were sent to a specialised department of Europol for further investigation and analysis.

As a result of thorough scientific investigations that took place in Cyprus and abroad, no data was found that tended to show that the equipment was used or operated in practice for monitoring or interception of any form of communication (oral or written) between users or interception of electronic files from devices.

“According to the findings of the tests, the operation of the systems was limited to automated scanning, random (untargeted) recording and storage of the International Subscriber Number (IMSI) of the SIM cards and the MAC address number of the electronic devices entering within the range of the system” he said.

The deputy AG added that the Personal Data Protection Commissioner was also informed about the personal data aspect of the case.

“As for the repeatedly made, unspeakable allegations against me, of my association with Mr Tal Dilian, I boldly state that these are unsubstantiated allegations that touch on mud-slinging and their ultimate purpose is to hurt the Legal Service of the Republic and my person. I boldly state that I do not know at all and there has never been any connection between me or my relatives and Mr Tal Dillian.

“The fact that a relative of mine, ten years ago, intended to cooperate professionally with Mr Sahak Avni, without finally having professional cooperation since it tanked from the beginning, as well as the fact that the company registered by my former law firm, on the instructions of my relative, was never activated, does not leave any room, to claim that there was a cover-up of the case or an impediment to my involvement in making a decision on the course of the ‘black van’ case,” he said.

In turn, he noted that the Personal Data Protection Commissioner on November 4, 2021 imposed an administrative fine of €925,000 on the company ‘Ws Wispear Systems Ltd’ for the illegal processing of personal data, as found during the police investigation and the company fully accepted its responsibility and paid the fine.

In his statement, Angelides goes on to add that the company pleaded guilty to 42 charges before the court and on February 22, 2022, was fined €76,000.

“The accused company, in essence, was punished, in relation to its illegal behaviour, with the total fines of €1,000,000, a penalty unprecedented in the Cypriot judicial annals,” Angelides noted.

“I want to make it clear that, if there was even a trace of evidence concerning interceptions or interceptions of any form of communication content (oral or written), then the criteria for the course of the case would be completely different,” he concluded.

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