Iran attempted to carry out a "terror attack" targeting Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus, a spokesman for the Israeli government said Monday, following reports of an attempted assassination of Israeli-Cypriot billionaire Teddy Sagi.
"This is not a criminal incident," said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's spokesman, Matan Sidi. Sagi, he added, "was not the target."
The Iranian embassy in Nicosia told Reuters that Israel is "always making such a baseless allegation against the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Earlier on Monday, Cypriot police chief Stelios Papatheodorou told reporters: "A person has been arrested, in whose possession a pistol and cartridges were found."
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"It is a sensitive case, which is why a remand request was held behind closed doors," Papatheodorou added.
Sagi fled the country following a tip-off from local authorities, Cypriot media reported.
According to the Alphanews website, the would-be assassin – a 38-year-old Azerbaijani citizen who holds a Russian passport – had targeted Sagi, a former software entrepreneur who accumulated his wealth from online gambling and is now invested heavily in international real estate, especially in the United Kingdom. According to Forbes, Sagi, owner of Camden Market, is worth $5.6 billion.
Initial reports stated that authorities believed that Sagi had been targeted as part of a wider Iranian operation against Israelis in Cyprus, but subsequent reporting claimed that Cypriot authorities now believe that the planned assassination was linked to a business dispute.
According to the Israeli Walla website, Cypriot security agencies warned Sagi to be careful, linking the threat to his life to former partners in the online gambling industry. The report stated that Sagi, who was arrested 25 years ago for bribery and fraud, had tried in recent months to reach an agreement with the partners, but was unsuccessful.
In a statement, the Sagi Group said: "This is a foiled Iranian terrorist incident. The target for the assassination is not Teddy Sagi but Israelis in Cyprus. Unfortunately, it is so easy to publish incorrect information and damage a person's name.”
Channel 12 reported that the assassin was apparently part of a squad that planned to hit Sagi, and entered through Turkish Cyprus and reached Greek Cyprus. While Sagi was having a party for one of his daughters, a suspicious person was observed in his area of residence, and his Israeli security guards updated the local police.
A source close to the group of companies owned by Teddy Sagi confirmed that the target of the attack was a building owned by a company controlled by Sagi near the border between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.
According to some Cypriot reports, the unnamed assassin may have been a member of the Russian mafia. He was arrested with a gun and silencer in his vehicle.
Israel appeared to hint that its intelligence services had contributed to Cyprus' foiling of the suspected attack plot.
"There are security threats. As you can see, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, all of the security forces know how to handle them," Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters when asked about the incident. "The fact is that we're there. We're minding matters."
Reuters contributed to this report.