Businessman Teddy Sagi says Cypriot police never warned him to leave, with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisting a thwarted alleged assassination plot was a much larger effort by Iran to kill Israelis in Cyprus and his defense minister backing the claim alluding to intelligence sources.
Bennett on Monday said a recently foiled plot in Cyprus reportedly targeting Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi was “a much wider Iranian attempt to kill Israelis” living and working on the island.
The premier made the statement following reports in Israel and Cyprus over the weekend concerning Sagi, who was said to have been tipped off by Cypriot police over an alleged contract killer who reportedly traveled to the island to seek him out over unpaid debts.
“This is not a criminal act and the Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi was not the target,” Bennett’s spokesperson said, contradicting media reports that the 49-year-old billionaire was a target due to debts he owed his Russian partners.
“As opposed to some of the reports yesterday regarding an incident in Cyprus, I can clarify on behalf of the security establishment that this was an act of terror that was orchestrated by Iran against Israeli businesspeople living in Cyprus,” Bennett said on Monday.
'At the end of the day, the truth has come out for which I'm very glad. I continue about my business as usual' Sagi said
The Iranian Embassy in Nicosia said the claims were baseless.
Cypriot police have been quiet over the arrest of a 38-year-old suspect, described as an Azeri man with a Russian passport who came to Cyprus last month on a flight from Russia to Larnaca International Airport.
Last week the suspect was arrested in Engomi, a western borough in south Nicosia, while reports said he had rented at least one vehicle in Paralimni and also made frequent crossings into the Turkish Cypriot north.
Greek Cypriot media have speculated that the suspect had been staying at a hotel in the north to keep a low profile and used a scooter to cross between the ethnically-divided island.
During his apprehension by anti-terrorism officers and undercover police, evidence found in the suspect's rental car parked in Engomi included rental agreements for at least one other vehicle, along with a handgun, ammunition, and a silencer.
State prosecutors asked a Nicosia judge last week for a closed session, citing public safety and national security concerns.
Cypriot police have neither confirmed nor denied whether Sagi had been notified as a potential target of an alleged assassination plot.
Sagi, the founder of gambling software company Playtech, claimed he was never told by police to leave the island.
"It's been a fascinating 24 hours," he was quoted as saying in Jewish media.
But Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who spoke during a political meeting on Monday at the Knesset, took things further, linking the Cyprus incident to Iran and threats against his country’s citizens anywhere in the world.
“Iran continues to be a global and regional threat, and a challenge to Israel. We will continue to act to defend our citizens and the security of the State of Israel, everywhere and against any threat,” Gantz told members of his party.
According to Jewish media, both Israeli ministers appeared to have cited “defense establishment sources” in making the allegations against Iran.
A least four other Israeli businessmen were said to have been alerted by law enforcement officials in Cyprus in connection with the case. All have left the island, while additional media suggested all five men were business associates.
Business as usual
"At the end of the day, the truth has come out for which I'm very glad. I continue about my business as usual," Sagi said.
Local reports also said initially the Azeri suspect was not cooperating with police while he had changed his mind over whether he wished to have an attorney to represent him.
But Cyprus Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou on Monday said he expected a “positive outcome” in the case.
“It’s not a matter of cooperating, evidence is being collected so that offenses can be proven in a court of law,” the chief said.
It was still not clear whether other arrests were imminent.
Papatheodorou told reporters on Monday “there is nothing” when asked to comment about any additional pending arrests.
The chief said police had a solid case but clarified all possible scenarios were still being investigated.