Cyprus Mail

‘Spy van’ link to latest US sanctions

File Photo: The van parked at Police Headquarters

The US government on Tuesday announced sanctions against two individuals and five entities associated with the Intellexa Consortium that develops spyware technology – including ex-Israeli intelligence officer Tal Dilian who in 2019 made the headlines in Cyprus in connection with the notorious ‘spy van’ affair.

The US Department of the Treasury said it was sanctioning Dilian and his associate Sara Aleksandra Fayssal Hamou “for their role in developing, operating, and distributing commercial spyware technology used to target Americans, including US government officials, journalists, and policy experts”.

According to the US Treasury, since its founding in 2019 “the Intellexa Consortium has acted as a marketing label for a variety of offensive cyber companies that offer commercial spyware and surveillance tools to enable targeted and mass surveillance campaigns. These tools are packaged as a suite of tools under the brand-name Predator spyware, which can infiltrate a range of electronic devices through zero-click attacks that require no user interaction for the spyware to infect the device.”

It added: “The Intellexa Consortium, which has a global customer base, has enabled the proliferation of commercial spyware and surveillance technologies around the world, including to authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, the Predator spyware has been deployed by foreign actors in an effort to covertly surveil US government officials, journalists, and policy experts.”

Tal Dilian is named as the founder of the Intellexa consortium, and “the architect behind its spyware tools. The consortium is a complex international web of decentralised companies controlled either fully or partially by Dilian, including through Sara Aleksandra Fayssal Hamou.”

Dilian’s current address is given in Switzerland. His associate, Polish national Hamou, has a current registered address in Limassol.

Hamou is described as “a corporate off-shoring specialist who has provided managerial services to the Intellexa Consortium, including renting office space in Greece on behalf of Intellexa SA. Hamou holds a leadership role at Intellexa SA, Intellexa Limited, and Thalestris Limited.”

The five sanctioned entities are Intellexa SA, Intellexa Limited, Cytrox AD, Cytrox Holdings ZRT, and Thalestris Limited.

Under the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control].”

According to the Jerusalem Post, the sanctions may be seen as part of growing tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv over Israel’s handling of its military operation in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post cited a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace dated March 14, 2023. That report noted that “three companies called Intellexa were registered, in Greece, Ireland and the British Virgin Islands. All three were owned by an Irish holding company, Thalestris.

“As Inside Story dug into company registers in Greece and Cyprus, they found that Thalestris also controlled companies named Apollo, Hermes, Mistrona, Dernova, Lorenco, and Feroveno – some of which were seemingly registered to a rubble-strewn vacant lot in downtown Limassol.”

In Cyprus, the ‘spy van’ affair came to a close in February 2022 when Larnaca criminal court slapped a €76,000 fine on WiSpear Systems Limited – a company selling surveillance systems. Dilian was the company CEO.

The company was facing 91 counts across multiple charges – breaching privacy laws, attacks on information systems laws, breaching electronic communications laws, customs laws and processing of personal data laws.

The Larnaca court cleared the company – which operated out of Larnaca – of 49 of the counts. The court said the violations were “accidental and non-targeted”.

It added that “no person suffered direct damage.”

Earlier, in November 2021, the attorney-general had dropped all charges against three individuals – including Dilian – who had been arrested in connection with the ‘spy van’.

Police here began investigating the case in November 2019, after the ‘spy van’ was showcased in a Forbes report – where Dilian was essentially advertising his services, which included covert surveillance and eavesdropping.

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