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Politics

Cypriot Whistleblower Says Spyware Used to Help Rich Russian

NICOSIA – A Cypriot whistleblower and former aide to President Nikos Anastasiades said the government is using surveillance techniques to help powerful Russians who have vast influence on the island.

The government denied the claims reported by the site EURACTIV, although rich Russians had been using Cypriot banks for years to hide their wealth and the island is a favorite for Russian visitors and businesses.

Makarios Drousiotis, who now works as a journalist, was an aide to Anastasiades and later worked for former European Commissioner Christos Stylianides who is now Greece’s Commissioner for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection for the New Democracy government.

Drousiotis alleged that the Cypriot government used spyware and bugging, including against him, saying that his cell phone and computer were hacked in 2018 while he was working for Stylianides at the EU office.

EURACTIV contacted Anastasiades’ office which said the claims were just  “unsupported accusations” and that it would “express total contempt to yellow journalism trash and malicious lies.”

Interviewed by EURACTIV, Drousiotis said the hacking happened when he had also started a private project researching corruption in Cyprus, focusing on links between Anastasiades and billionaire Russian businessman Dmitri Rybolovlev, who was the Chairman of the Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali.

According to the report, Rybolovlev used the Andreas Neocleous & Co law firm to set up trust funds to hide his fortune’s sources and had in 2010 – before Anastasiades took office in 2013 – to buy a 9.7 percent stake in the Bank of Cyprus.

The powerful Russian was also given a Cypriot residency permit and European Union passport through a discredited and since-shelved program accused of not checking applicants for criminal activities or money laundering.

Neocleous was found guilty of bribing the island’s former Deputy Attorney General in 2015 but was pardoned by Anastasiades in 2018. Neocleous, who died from COVID in 2021, in 2019 bought the Cyprus Mail newspaper and removed all articles online critical of him.

Drousiotis said he realized his phone had been hacked in February 2018 after seeing that information related to his investigation of corruption was being revealed, the report said.

In 2019, the Organisation Crime and Corruption Reporting Project linked a law firm co-owned by Anastasiades, which he stepped away from just before becoming president, to “business deals linked to a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the infamous Magnitsky scandal, and a network of companies used in various financial crimes.”

Anastasiades has said no Cypriot was being surveilled but Drousiotis said he was present when the president read out transcripts of wiretapped conversations, including those of foreign diplomats, which never included Russians.

“I personally have no doubt whatsoever that the culprit behind my surveillance is Anastasiades himself,” Drousiotis told EURACTIV, adding that he testified about it to a European Parliament committee investigating the use of spyware in the bloc.

MEP Jeroen Lenaers, who heads the panel looking into Pegasus spyware, told the site that that Cyprus has many companies using the software and that regulations are too lax there.

 

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