NICOSIA – A Cyprus court on Friday denied a police request to detain three people in order to assist its investigation into the business dealings of a high-tech surveillance equipment company owned by an Israeli former intelligence officer.
According to the state-run Cyprus News Agency, Larnaca Distict Court judge Dona Constantinou told a hearing that she saw no reason to justify ordering the three employees of the Cyprus-registered company WiSpear to be taken into custody.
The judge said it was unlikely the two men and one woman would now try to influence witnesses more than a month into the police investigation.
Police on Thursday arrested the three employees — a computer programmer, a warehouse worker and a secretary — saying they were under investigation for suspected breaches of private communication and personal data laws.
Authorities launched a probe following reports that alleged a WiSpear-owned van supposedly crammed with sophisticated surveillance equipment was used to spy on people in the Mediterranean island nation.
Investigator Marios Papaevriviades told the court that the three employees were linked to installation of WiFi antennas and other equipment at Cyprus’ main airport at Larnaca that was later removed amid passengers’ complaints of poor reception.
A local newspaper reported that authorities suspected the antennas were used to keep tabs on arriving passengers.
Three other individuals are being sought in connection with the case.
Defense lawyer Andreas Pelecanos told the court that the police had “ulterior motives” in moving ahead with their investigation and were only spurred into action against the company after Andros Kyprianou, the leader of Cyprus’ communist-rooted AKEL party, raised questions about WiSpear’s activities.
Pelecanos said his clients had done nothing wrong because WiSpear had police authorization to use the van and its high-tech equipment.
In a statement, police strongly denied allegations of political interference or ulterior motives on its part in launching the probe. It said the court ruled that “criminal acts under investigation had been committed ” and that the release of the suspects at this stage in the investigation doesn’t mean that they aren’t implicated in these acts.
WiSpear has denied any wrongdoing, saying it neither sold nor rented “intelligence systems” to Cypriot authorities and doesn’t provide “intelligence services” for clients.
WiSpear was incorporated in 2013 and began operating four years later. It is run by Tal Dillian, an Israeli who an earlier Forbes video showed boasting about the vehicle’s surveillance capabilities.
In statements it issued Friday, WiSpear called the investigation a “charade” and “political sham” in which its employees and managers were being used as “pawns in a political game aiming to create favorable circumstances” for AKEL and its leader.
It also accused police of initiating a “misinformation circus” that showed how the country was “disregarding the rule of law.”
“We will unveil this conspiracy step by step and shine a light on the truth,” WiSpear said.
AKEL said it’s not bothered by WiSpear’s “insolent” remarks, which only go to “insult and undermine” Cypriot authorities who are themselves responsible for answering the company’s “silly claims.”
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said Friday he wouldn’t comment on the investigation other than to say that it in no way damaged Cypriot-Israeli relations.