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Society

Cyprus Police Arrest Three Over Alleged Spy Van Operation

December 20, 2019

NICOSIA – Weeks after the revelation that an alleged spy van was operating on the island, Cyprus police arrested three employees of a high-tech surveillance equipment company owned by an Israeli former intelligence officer amid a probe of the firm’s business activities.

Police said the two men and one woman were under investigation for suspected breaches of private communication and personal data laws and face possible charges of conspiracy to commit a criminal act and obtaining registration under false pretenses.

They were due in court on Dec. 20 in connection with the probe over the  company, Cyprus-registered WiSpear, following reports claiming a van crammed with sophisticated surveillance technology was used to spy on people without saying who was targeted.

WiSpear has denied any wrongdoing, saying it neither sold nor rented “intelligence systems” to Cypriot authorities and doesn’t provide “intelligence services” for clients.

The company said the van was used on Cyprus only for demonstration purposes and field testing and with the knowledge of local authorities and earlier in December, WiSpear Chief Executive Tal Dilian, a former commander of a technology unit within Israeli intelligence, said his company was caught between political forces in a witch hunt.

Dilian said he was disappointed with police for “delaying on purpose or not having the necessary expertise to understand the core of the investigation,” without explaining what that meant.

Dilian, in a written statement through his lawyer, said WiSpear was being targeted after he had given an interview about a surveillance vehicle, the SpearHead 360, that can hack multiple devices all at once, Kathimerini Cyprus reported.

An interview with Forbes magazine was published in the summer along with a video shot in Larnaca but Cyprus media didn’t report it until recently when politicians raised questions over possible unlawful surveillance activities including spying on political parties or politicians, without offering any evidence.

The vehicle was confiscated by police following allegations that the company had been spying on local citizens but Dilian said his company was caught “in the midst of a vicious cycle of ‘accusations’ that are based solely on an interview given to an international media outlet.”

“This interview has been twisted and is being used to fuel allegations and rumours, from unnamed sources based on unclear motives, for our so-called unlawful activities,” Dilian said, claiming it had not engaged in unlawful activity.

The major opposition Communist AKEL party had raised the alarm about the van, leading  Attorney General,Costas Clerides to appoint an independent criminal investigator and President Nicos Anastasiades saying he would “never tolerate” privacy violations.

Dillian faulted Cypriot investigators for “either stalling” or lacking “the necessary technical expertise” to handle the case and charged that law enforcement was either being “influenced by the media” or “coming under pressure” by unnamed “parties” to issue arrest warrants.

“Given the fact that our company is a Cypriot company, it is now very clear that the hostility, especially from certain political parties, is targeting our Israeli ethnicity and aims to destabilize Cypro-Israeli relations,” Dillian said any arrests would be “legally unjustifiable” and insisted that he fully cooperated with investigators from the outset of the probe.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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