Deputy AG breaks silence over ‘spy van’ cover-up claims

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Deputy Attorney-general Savvas Angelides has pushed back accusations of an alleged cover-up in the 2019 ‘spy van’ scandal, which resurfaced following claims from politicians of a Cyprus link to the Greek eavesdropping case.

The Attorney-general’s office had found itself targeted by opposition politicians for dropping the charges against Israeli defendants whose company was involved in the spy van case, which had allegedly tested out spyware on unsuspecting citizens.

Tal Dilian, an Israeli ex-intelligence officer and CEO of WiSpear Systems Limited, owned the van, and Shahak Avraham Avni, the owner of security services provider NCIS, a company housed in the same building as WiSpear.

AKEL MEP George Georgiou called on the European Parliament to put Cyprus under the microscope and called for an on-site investigation concerning the eavesdropping scandal raging in Greece.

Georgiou believes there is a possible link between the ‘spy van’ affair and the scandal in Greece.

Two officials in Athens have resigned in the wake of revelations that the country’s intelligence service tapped the phones of an opposition politician and a journalist, allegedly using spyware known as Pegasus.

Pegasus is linked to Cyprus’ infamous spy van case, which AKEL had reported in 2019.

The company which created the surveillance software in Greece was founded by the former Israeli spy Dillian, the main defendant in the case of the black van.

In a statement, Angelides refuted claims the spy van case had anything to do with the use of any software system in the incident in Greece and argued that he and his family had no connection with the people involved in the spy van.

One of the persistent questions of opposition politicians was why the Attorney-General’s office had failed to explain why the ‘black van’ case was dropped.

Angelides argued there was no cover-up and that police and legal services had done extensive investigative work.

“All documents received by the police were subject to specialised forensic examination, by police experts and a private expert specialising in telecommunication systems/networks and intertwined security issues.”

Seized equipment

The Deputy Attorney General said the electronic data extracted from the seized equipment were sent to Europol for further investigation and analysis.

He argued that thorough scientific investigations in Cyprus and abroad found no data indicating that the van’s spying equipment was used or operated in practice for monitoring or interception of any form of communication.

Angelides defended himself against accusations of links to the spy van case.

“As for the repeatedly made, unspeakable allegations against me, of my association with Mr Tal Dilian, I state these are unsubstantiated allegations that touch on mudslinging, and their ultimate purpose is to hurt the Legal Service of the Republic and my person.

Angelides had, on several occasions, been linked by opposition politicians and media to Shahak Avni, the owner of security-services provider NCIS.

“The fact that a relative of mine, 10 years ago, intended to cooperate professionally with Mr Sahak Avni, without finally having professional cooperation since it failed, and the fact the company registered by my former law firm, on the instructions of my relative, was never activated, does not leave any room to claim there was a cover-up.”

According to AKEL-affiliated news site Dialogos in October 2021, Angelides’ former law firm, Angelides-Ioannides-Leonidou DEPE, provided services to Avni, registering one of his companies.

Dialogos said the law firm in 2010 registered S9S, a company belonging to Avni, allegedly selling spyware.

Angelides and his brother Michael were partners in the law firm until February 2018, when he was appointed Defence Minister under President Nicos Anastasiades.

The Personal Data Protection Commissioner, on November 4, 2021, imposed an administrative fine of €925,000 on the company ‘Ws Wispear Systems Ltd’ for the illegal processing of personal data, as found during the police investigation, and the company fully accepted its responsibility and paid the fine.

Angelides said the company pleaded guilty to 42 charges before the court and, on February 22, 2022, was fined €76,000.

“The accused company, in essence, was punished, in relation to its illegal behaviour, with the total fines of €1,000,000, a penalty unprecedented in the Cypriot judicial annals.”

Attorney General George Savvides dropped criminal charges against the suspects, angering the opposition parties.

They were facing some 90 charges related to violating privacy laws, processing private data, falsely obtaining documents, breaking the radio communication law, and conspiracy to commit a crime.