Criminal Allegations Against Israeli-linked Spyware, Ex-intel Commander in Greek Hacking Scandal

Investigative journalist Thanasis Koukakis was under surveillance by Greece. Now he’s decided to take Intellexa, the firm behind the Predator spyware allegedly used against him, and its owners to court

Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob
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Intellexa Co-CEO Tal Dilian at his house in Limassol, Cyprus, in 2020.
Intellexa Co-CEO Tal Dilian at his house in Limassol, Cyprus, in 2020.Credit: Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS
Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob

A lawsuit against digital spyware firm Intellexa was filed in Greece on Wednesday demanding a criminal investigation into the company, which is owned by the Israeli national and former intelligence commander, Tal Dilian.

This is the first suit linked to the spyware scandal rocking Greece these past several months, requiring prosecutors to investigate the case and decide if an indictment should be brought forward.

Thanasis Koukakis, an investigative journalist, filed the suit with prosecutors in Athens accusing Intellexa and its personnel of a string of criminal offenses, including breaches of privacy and communications laws.

The suit accuses the firm, Dilian and another shareholder – Sara Hemo, who is also Dilian’s partner – of assisting in the breach of both EU and Greek laws as part of their alleged sale of their Predator spyware to Greek's National Intelligence Service, or EYP. Prosecutors are now required to investigate the case and decide if an indictment should be brought forward.

Greece has admitted Koukakis and others were being lawfully surveilled – but has fallen short of admitting it contracted Intellexa and used its spyware.

Thanasis KoukakisCredit: Twitter

Koukakis told Haaretz he has decided to take the firm and its owners to court as the Greek government has not done enough to investigate the case.

“Despite the press revelations and the pressure from the European Parliament and the European Commission, the Greek government continues to grant complete immunity to Intellexa and its shareholders. Given that the Mitsotakis administration has not yet moved in any way to limit or prohibit the use of Predator in my country, I filed a lawsuit against Intellexa and its shareholders asking from the Greek justice to take action and investigate all crimes that have been committed,” Koukakis said.

Koukakis says his hope is that “the upcoming criminal proceedings against those who have made the surveillance of unsuspecting citizens a profitable business will finally lead to the complete ban on the uncontrolled use of Predator spyware in Greece and will signal similar institutional changes at the European level.”

Koukakis’ lawyer, Zacharyias Kesses, who filed the suit, explains that the “idea is that Predator is an unlawful software which breaches our right to private life and communications, and it is illegal to be purchased. It is an EU policy issue but above all it is a personal data breach issue since Greek legislation does not allow such kind of personal data software. As a consequence, it is a democratic issue.”

Dilian and the firm faced a criminal investigation in Cyprus in the past – and a firm affiliated with it was found guilty this year of illegally siphoning data from Larnaca’s airport (though Dilian himself was cleared of all charges).

Greece is in the midst of a massive political scandal over revelations involving the spyware after it was revealed last April that Koukakis, who works for CNN Greece, and also contributed to the Financial Times and CNBC, and was covering one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals, was hacked with the spyware.

Panagiotis Kontoleon, the then-head of Greece's intelligence service, attending a meeting at the Greek parliament in Athens last July.Credit: Yiannis Panagopoulos/AP

It was the first case of a European national being targeted with the Predator spyware created by the Israeli-owned firm Cytrox, which is owned by Intellexa. A few months later, an investigation by the EU Parliament also found the phone of the leader of the socialist opposition PASOK party Nikos Androulakis had been targeted with the spyware.

In response, in August, the head of Greece's intelligence service Panagiotis Kontoleon stepped down amid increased scrutiny of the agency's surveillance practices. A close aide to the Greek prime minister also stepped down.

A few weeks ago, a former lawmaker and Infrastructure and Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis, a member of the left-wing party Syriza, was revealed to have also been hacked in 2021 using a malicious link that also infected Koukakis' phone.

The use of military-grade spyware – created to help fight terrorism and serious crime – against journalists by governments has sparked fierce criticism across the world against firms like NSO who sell regimes the technology. The global Project Pegasus investigation, to which Haaretz was a partner and was published last July, revealed that from India, to Africa and even in Europe, alleged NSO clients had selected journalists for possible surveillance using their infamous Pegasus spyware.

Just this week, a rights group in Mexico revealed that at least two journalists were targeted with Pegasus between 2019-2020, mostly likely by the Mexican state, a known client of Israel’s NSO Group.

However, while NSO and others like it operate under strict oversight from Israel, Intellexa, which is registered in a number of places, does not.

According to an investigation by Haaretz based on conversations with dozens of sources, Intellexa can offer Predator, as well as other hack-for-hire technologies, a service to countries Israelis are barred from providing services to or selling to by the Defense Minister due to fears of sensitive information or tactics being leaked.

According to sources, Intellexa is de facto a private cyber intel organization operating outside Israeli oversight.

Dilian’s lawyers in Cyprus did not respond to this report.

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