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22 May, 2024
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Court rejects remand requests in spy van case

Israeli surveillance firm accuses Cypriot police of political motives, prosecutors point to evidence of unlawful scanning


Prosecutors in the spy van case pointed to Wi-Fi antennas installed at Larnaca International Airport, during a remand hearing on Friday where three local employees of an Israeli firm were being accused of multiple charges including privacy laws violations.

Cypriot investigators pressed forward with their case at the Larnaca courthouse on Friday against Israeli surveillance firm WiSpear, amid accusations that the company’s controversial spy van, the SpearHead 360, was used to hack into mobile devices and unlawfully gain access to private data.

During the remand hearing of three suspects, two men and one woman all described as Greek Cypriot employees of WiSpear, prosecutors submitted a 29-page document which reportedly included references to a list of over a million email addresses. The data was said to have been discovered during an investigation on equipment installed in the spy van, which was confiscated last month.

Media reports said police were focusing on allegations that people’s phones were hacked near or around Larnaca airport, while some unconfirmed reports alleged that police were looking into whether phones of people who arrived in Cyprus were under surveillance during their stay on the island.

The company has flatly rejected the allegations, while also issuing two back-to-back statements on Friday saying that political motives were behind the case.

'Our patience is now exhausted and we no longer feel compelled to adhere to social etiquette. We will uncover this conspiracy step by step until the truth comes out'

WiSpear said in a statement that the company supplied cutting-edge Wi-Fi antennas to Hermes, the airport’s operator, through a subcontract with a third company.

According to experts, the spy van can hack into both Apple and Android devices from half a kilometre away but it could not gain access to any devices that were not connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Prosecutors said they found evidence of “Wi-Fi scanning” while one of the Wi-Fi antennas was installed across from the Departure Terminal.

In their statement outside of court, WiSpear addressed the issue by saying similar equipment was being used in many developed countries including Japan and America.

Defence lawyers further objected to a request for an eight-day remand, saying there was no evidence that a crime was ever committed by the suspects.

Prosecutors insisted that the suspects were involved in the case which needed further investigation, with defence insisting that their clients -a programmer, a warehouse person, and an assistant- could not in any way influence the ongoing investigation.

The defence also pointed out that police had been aware of the van’s operations, alleging further that an anti-drug police officer was in fact present at a van location.

But the prosecutors insisted that they had suspicions that Wi-Fi antennas were set to perform illegal scans, adding that police were still investigating the matter.

Additional reports said passengers and other members of the public had complained about the antennas while there were also problems with the services offered by the company.

Prosecutors also say 626 unique numbers, which are not accessible by Hermes, were targeted in the Wi-Fi scan, while the defence said they were troubled that the Hermes server was not confiscated as well. 

In an earlier statement, WiSpear said it was on the receiving end of multiple attacks by “many parties unable to understand and evaluate our work,” while also accusing Akel party’s secretary general Andros Kyprianou of pulling the strings in the case.

“Our patience is now exhausted and we no longer feel compelled to adhere to social etiquette. We will uncover this conspiracy step by step until the truth comes out,” the company said.

Kyprianou dismissed the allegations in a response to questions by reporters.

“This is ridiculous. I challenge the company to prove what conspiracy was set up by the state. I would be very pleased to hear about it,” Kyprianou said.

The remand request, which was held in an open court, was rejected by the female judge, who said the detention of the three suspects was not warranted.

Cyprus  |  spy van  |  WiSpear  |  police

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