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Cyprus arrests three employees of Israeli-owned spy firm in van probe

Three suspects work for company owned by former Israeli army commander
Three employees are under investigation and face 13 potential charges (AFP/File photo)

Cyprus police arrested three people in connection with an alleged "spy van" equipped with complex surveillance technology capable of breaching private communications.

The three people, two men and a woman, are employees of WiSpear, a high-tech, Israeli-owned surveillance equipment company that also owns the van.

All three are under investigation for suspected breaches of private communication and personal data laws.

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They face 13 potential charges, including conspiracy to commit a criminal act and obtaining registration under false pretenses, according to Cyprus police, as reported by the Associated Press.

Police launched a probe of Cyprus-registered WiSpear following reports in November that alleged a van filled with surveillance technology was being used for spying in Cyprus.

The company said it neither sold nor rented "intelligence systems" and does not provide "intelligence services" for its clients, AP said.

WiSpear is a WiFi surveillance company that was incorporated in 2013 and began operating four years later. It is based in Cyprus and run by Tal Dillian, a former commander in the Special Operations Unit of the Intelligence Corps in the Israeli army.

Dillian was seen in a Forbes video boasting about the vehicle's surveillance capabilities.

Israel has been working on surveillance technology for some time, initially using it to monitor and spy on Palestinians. Now, Israeli technology is being exported to other countries as well.

A notable case of Israeli spy technology is the spyware Pegasus, created by the Israeli firm NSO, which was used to spy on Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi before he was slain by a Saudi hit team.

WhatsApp has also accused NSO of cyberattacks. The spy firm is reported by WhatsApp to have targeted the mobile phones of more than 1,400 users in 20 countries in a two-week period ending in early May.

Dillian described the probe by Cypriot police as a "witch hunt" against him, insisting his company did not commit "any illegal activity whatsoever".

"Given the fact that our company is a Cypriot company, it is now very clear that the hostility, especially from certain political parties, is targeting our Israeli ethnicity and aims to destabilize Cypro-Israeli relations," he said, as reported by the Associated Press.

Dillian said he has fully cooperated with police since the probe began and that any arrests would be "legally unjustifiable".