Three arrested over ‘spy van’ released as police blasted

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Three Cypriots arrested in connection with an alleged Israeli ‘spy van’ equipped with sophisticated surveillance technology capable of hacking communications, were released on Friday.

A Larnaca district court rejected a police request to remand them in custody while they continued their investigations.

The three suspects, two men aged 30 and 35, and a woman aged 41, were facing 13 charges related to violation of privacy laws, processing private data, falsely obtaining documents and breaking the radio communication law, said police.

All three, employees for the Cyprus-based Israeli company that owns the ‘spy van’ were released on Friday after a judge rejected an eight-day remand requested by police, saying there is no justification to detain them.

Police investigator Marios Papaevriviades said that the first suspect is a programmer while the second is a warehouse supervisor for WS Wispear Systems and the third is an assistant to the company director based in Larnaca.

Papaevriviades argued the trio should remain in custody as they could interfere with the police investigation.

He said 95 people have given statements and another 55 were expected to do so.

Some 17 searches were carried out in homes, premises of the company and vehicles while electronic documents and other evidence was sent for forensic examination.

The officer told the court that three more people were wanted by the police who have a direct relationship with the three suspects in the crimes under investigation.

Following developments, Wispear hit back at police on Friday over the three arrests saying their employees were innocent.

It said the employees arrested were working on installing a Wi-Fi system at Larnaca airport: “It seems that the Cypriot police has also a thing against Wi-Fi antennas as well”.

The company said it was installing the system according to an agreement made with Hermes Airports.

“Nine antennas of innovative technology out of which, three were installed in phase 1 to be tested as long-range Wi-Fi access point for visitors and tourists to enjoy high quality and high-speed internet access,” said WiSpear.

“This kind of equipment is commonly used from Japan to the USA and in all developed countries.”

The Israeli firm accused the police of damaging its reputation.

“This witch-hunt against us is now expanding to include and affect entities like Hermes (airports operator) that have done nothing else apart from looking into trying our innovative technology for the optimisation of their services to the public.”

The company also accused the police of acting under opposition party “AKEL’s instruction” and its leader Andros Kyprianou.

Political pawns

In another statement on Friday Wispear said: “Our company, our founder, our colleagues and other Israelis have been used as pawns in a political game which aims to create favourable conditions for Mr Andros Kyprianou.”

AKEL said the three arrests confirmed its initial suspicions of wrongdoing.

Cyprus police also issued a statement denying any political interference in the probe.

It said this was not the first time a court has ruled that there are no grounds for detaining suspects, but that does not mean that there is no room for further investigation

President Nicos Anastasiades said the ‘spy van’ saga has not affected relations with Israel.

Last month an independent investigator was appointed to assist the police probe into the alleged “spy van”.

Attorney-general Costas Clerides said a criminal law expert was needed due to the “seriousness of the case and the different legal aspects” that are cropping up.

The ongoing police investigation seeks to ascertain whether any criminal offences were committed in violating the right to privacy and confidential communication.

Police began investigating after AKEL asked what the government was doing about activities undertaken in the van, which was showcased in a Forbes video story broadcast several months ago that only recently went viral in Cyprus.

The van is owned by Cyprus-registered company WiSpear, whose Israeli CEO Tal Dillian is said to be a former Israeli intelligence officer.

Forbes said multi-million state-of-the-art equipment in the van can monitor electronic devices within a 500-meter radius, hack any phone and listen in to conversations regardless of the level of encryption.

In November, police searched the company premises where the van was located in the southern coastal resort of Larnaca after securing warrants.

The van was seized on November 17 and is still in the possession of the police.

WiSpear denies any wrongdoing and says the van was not used to spy on anybody in Cyprus or hired to do so.