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Israeli spy-tech CEO wanted for questioning by Cypriot police

Local authorities concerned over presence of a $9 million signals intelligence van, owned by ex-IDF intelligence officer and WiSpear CEO Tal Dillian, on their territory

WiSpear CEO Tal Dillian is wanted for questioning by police in Cyprus in connection with the operations of a $9 million "spy van" owned by his company. (Screen capture: Forbes)
WiSpear CEO Tal Dillian is wanted for questioning by police in Cyprus in connection with the operations of a $9 million "spy van" owned by his company. (Screen capture: Forbes)

The Israeli CEO of a spy-tech firm that has developed a “spy van” equipped with sophisticated surveillance technology is wanted for questioning by police in the Cypriot city of Larnaca, according to a television report Sunday.

According to the Channel 13 report, Cyprus authorities are looking to speak with WiSpear CEO Tal Dillian, a former career IDF intelligence officer turned technology entrepreneur, over the presence of the $9 million vehicle in the country.

The van is packed with technology that the company brags can monitor electronic devices within a 500-meter (yard) radius, hack any phone and listen in on conversations regardless of the level of encryption.

Dillian sold his former company Circles in 2014. It was then merged with Israeli surveillance software firm NSO Group, which is currently being sued by the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging service for allegedly using the hugely popular instant messaging platform to conduct cyber espionage on nearly 1,400 journalists, diplomats, dissidents and human right activists worldwide.

In a statement, WiSpear said that local “authorities are under pressure from the Communist Party,” an apparent reference to the opposition Progressive Party of Working People. According to the local English-language Cyprus Mail newspaper, the company has previous accused the party of anti-Semitism.

A surveillance van by Israeli firm WiSpear is seen a video released by Forbes on August 5, 2019. (Forbes)

Last Friday, a Cyprus court released three of the Dillian’s workers arrested a day earlier over their alleged connection to the van. Police had asked that the three be remanded for eight days but a judge ruled their arrest was unwarranted.

The Cypriot suspects, two men and a woman, faced 13 charges related to violation of privacy laws, processing private data, falsely obtaining documents and breaking the radio communication law.

Last month an independent investigator was appointed to assist the police probe into the van, which appeared in a Forbes video that went viral on the Mediterranean island. Cypriot Attorney General Costas Clerides said at the time that a criminal law expert was needed due to the “seriousness of the case and the different legal aspects” of it.

The van was seized on November 17 in Larnaca 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.

According to the Cyprus Mail, WiSpear’s attorneys argued on Friday that the company’s use of the van had been legal and that “each time the vehicle moved, permission was requested and granted from a particular department under the transport ministry.”

“In one case a drug squad officer was present,” the company’s attorney was quoted as saying.

In a statement earlier this month, Dillian lashed out at “amateurish” police for prolonging a “witch hunt” against him. Dillian said he was “embedded into a vicious circle of accusations” solely based on an interview given to Forbes.

“The interview has been altered and used to fuel rumors and innuendos about illegal activities, coming from unnamed sources and serving unclear motives,” he said. He refuted claims there had been any illegal activity and was adamant that “the police are aware of this fact, which is supported by their own investigation.”

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