The Supreme Court in the Republic of Cyprus has recalled an arrest warrant for Avraham Shahak Avni, a Jewish community leader who is implicated in the spy van probe, ruling that police had no reasonable basis to detain a man who had been otherwise cooperating with authorities from the get-go.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, the Supreme Court on Wednesday recalled an arrest warrant for Avni in connection with the spy van probe, noting the seriousness of possible offences under investigation were not sufficient basis to issue an arrest warrant against the head of a Cypriot security company.
Supreme Court Judge Tasia Psara-Miltiadou scolded law enforcement authorities on the issue, noting that police prosecutors were not forthcoming with crucial information when they requested a warrant from a local judge.
Back in early January, the state’s former attorney general gave the okay for police prosecutors to seek arrest warrants against Avni, as well as Tan Dilian, a former Israeli intelligence officer who co-founded a cyber-surveillance firm in Cyprus, and also a third individual purportedly having ties to both suspects.
'We must not forget that a person’s freedom, a sign of human dignity, can only be deprived when it is absolutely necessary,' the Judge said
The probe began after allegations emerged that a spy van was engaged in unlawful surveillance on the island, something which the owners of the van vehemently deny. The case, dubbed “spy van” referring to the high-tech surveillance vehicle known as the SpearHead 360, made global headlines after fears emerged that Cypriot-registered Israeli firms could be spying on local citizens and politicians using Wi-Fi installations near airport terminals.
But Avni, who was granted Cypriot citizenship in 2015 as a foreign inverstor, took his particular case to the Supreme Court earlier this year, arguing that he was cooperating with authorities from the very beginning of the investigation before he flew abroad, with his lawyers having expressed their client’s willingness to come back on the condition he would not be detained.
It later emerged that police got a court warrant after Avni left the island as well as days after his lawyers had written to prosecutors saying his client was overseas on business but remained willing to cooperate with Cypriot authorities.
“After examining carefully how the appellant behaved throughout the investigation, I noticed there was cooperation on his part with the police,” Judge Psara-Miltiadou said.
The Judge went on to say that Avni himself and also through his employees took actions that made the investigation easier on police and had always made time either himself or through his attorneys to provide any requested evidence.
“This was particularly significant in the early days of the investigation when initial arrest warrants had been executed,” Psara-Miltiadou added.
In December 2019, three local employees of Avni’s Israeli firm had been detained on court warrants and accused of multiple charges including privacy laws violations, but during a subsequent remand hearing police prosecutors failed to convince the judge that crimes had been committed which would warrant their further detention.
Police, who have been heavily criticized over their handling of the case as well as lacking experience, have since sought expert advice to determine whether or not confiscated equipment and data they collected from the spy van contained any evidence of unlawful activities.
Psara-Miltiadou also had some harsh words for law enforcement, noting that police did not seek Avni’s detention in the early stages of the investigation, some 45 days before he left the country to go abroad.
“He flew out of Cyprus after the initial investigation had already taken place and no arrest warrant had been requested by that time,” the Judge said, adding that she found Avni’s arrest last June as “unnecessary.”
The Judge also rejected the logic behind the warrant, saying the timeframe and investigation already taking place did not raise any concerns over possible witness tampering.
“We must not forget that a person’s freedom, a sign of human dignity, can only be deprived when it is absolutely necessary,” the Supreme Court Judge added.