Cyprus fully respects the privacy of communications, the attorney-general said on Tuesday, a day ahead of a scheduled meeting with a visiting delegation of the European Parliament committee investigating the development and use of spyware within the EU.
In Cyprus “we fully respect – and this is enshrined in our constitution – the privacy of communications.
“There are very strict rules under which any surveillance may be carried out legally,” Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides said.
The European Parliament committee – known as Pega – is currently on the island for a series of meetings with officials and stakeholders. On Wednesday the MEPs will see the attorney-general.
During their stay here, the MEPs will also see Commerce Minister Natasa Pilides, whom they will ask whether Cyprus grants export licences to companies developing such software. The government has previously denied this.
Asked whether the MEPs would be handed a dossier relating to the ‘spy van’ affair in 2019, Savvides demurred, saying only that he did not understand why so much “noise” was being made over the document.
The dossier in question was compiled by lawyer Elias Stefanou, acting as special investigator assisting the police probe into the spy van case which implicated a Cyprus-based company by the name of Wispear. Neither the document nor its findings were ever made public.
Charges brought against executives of Wispear – including Israeli national Tal Dilian – were subsequently dropped by the attorney-general, while the company itself was slapped with a fine.
The handling of the case has led to lingering accusations of a cover-up.
A December 2021 report by Citizen Lab, a digital forensics research outfit, said the spyware suite known commercially as Predator was developed by a company called Cytrox.
Cytrox was reportedly acquired by Dilian in 2018. Dilian is also said to be the founder and CEO of Intellexa, ‘a marketing label for a range of mercenary surveillance vendors that emerged in 2019.’
Citizen Lab added: “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 SA), but also in Ireland (Intellexa Limited).”
The special European parliament committee was set up in March this year to investigate the use of spyware, after the phones of a politician and a journalist in Greece were found to have been infected with Predator. The Greek government denied using Predator to spy on citizens.
Weighing in on the matter, main opposition Akel on Tuesday spoke of “relentless questions” that needed answering, and asserted that “the government’s silence betrays their guilt.”
In a statement, the party noted that “as revelations mount and the eavesdropping web in Greece and Cyprus unravels, the government insists that the issue does not concern Cyprus. The government and Disy think that they’ll buy time by staying silent.”
Akel also demanded to know whether Justice Minister Stephie Drakou refused to meet the visiting MEPs, as reported in the media. The party additionally pointed to a report alleging that a Disy cadre with connections to the Greek government may have been the liaison facilitating Intellexa’s migration to Greece.
Later in the day, the office of the justice minister released a statement clarifying that the MEPs never requested to meet her, so she could not have declined.
In a story it published on Tuesday, Politis also claimed that the European Parliament committee asked to meet with Dilian in Cyprus, but he refused. The Israeli national is said to permanently reside in Limassol.
The daily meantime came out with new allegations, such as that other spyware development companies – likewise controlled by Israelis – operate on the island. According to the newspaper, about two weeks ago one of these companies – based in Nicosia – showcased its software to prospective clients.
During the demo, the paper said, the software intercepted “hundreds of phones of unsuspecting people walking outside the company’s office.”