Στο εσωτερικό του Μεγάρου Μαξίμου. [Τατιάνα Μπόλαρη/Eurokinissi]
INSIDE STORY: Greek State and spyware vendor Intellexa: they are acquainted after all
How the relationship of the Greek state with Intellexa, the company that markets the illegal Predator software, began, how it developed and where it appears to be heading…
If the government really wanted to unravel the activities of the country’s eavesdropping center, its main lead would be the money flow. But it doesn’t appear to be what it wanted. As the saying goes, “money talks”, and in the case of the illegal wiretapping center –the existence of which was confirmed by the prime minister himself– it says more than those involved and those who are untouched by the issue would possibly like.
On the contrary, an attempt is made to present the companies Krikel and Intellexa as two unrelated entities: that is, the official supplier of the state, and the company that markets and installs the illegal mobile phone interception software – which was used in the case of Thanasis Koukakis and dozens of other politicians, journalists and other public figures in Greece – and still has not effectively been disturbed by any institutional body.
However, the reality is different.
|This article appeared in inside story on the 14th of November 2022, in its original Greek version. Διαβάστε το παρόν άρθρο στην πρωτότυπη εκδοχή του στα ελληνικά ΕΔΩ.|
More specifically, Intellexa, of Tal Dilian interests, officially established in Greece in March 2020, markets the Predator spyware. Krikel, owned by businessman Yiannis Lavranou, from 2018 becomes the preferred official supplier of the Ministry of Citizen Protection (An.: the businessman’s relationship with the ministry through another of his companies dates back to at least 2014). From 2018 to date, Krikel and the Ministry of Citizen Protection have signed seven contracts, six of which were designated confidential. In the summer of 2020, a call for an expression for interest was announced for the statutory hearing system. The executives of EYP, who are bothered by suppliers who want to sell, revert with the response “don’t bother, it belongs to Lavranou”. EYP signs a contract with the Italian RCS Lab for the MITO system, which is however linked to a subcontracting contract with Krikel – a company whose main (if not only) client is the Ministry of Citizen Protection, and which in its original statutory purposes in 2017 included the wholesale trade of rice. According to reliable information which is available and has been published by inside story, Krikel personnel in the role of “trainer” visited EYP facilities in Agia Paraskevi for at least two months (December 2021, January 2022).
It is in Agia Paraskevi, in a space controlled by the Greek government, that – according to reliable inside story information- Intellexa’s Predator illegal surveillance system was installed. Its purchase cost the Greek side 7 million euros and, from then on, the cost for ten alternating targets per month is 150,000 euros. According to the same sources, the purchase of the system was “hidden” within another EYP contract. Owner of 35% of Intellexa was, since May 2020 (through the Cypriot company Santinomo) businessman Felix Bitzios. Through his other Cypriot company, Viniato – as inside story has already revealed – he acted during the nine months of 2018 as a consultant to Krikel, so that it could develop its strategy regarding projects (for support and development of special software) within the Greek territory. Viniato’s fee was paid in August 2018 from an account maintained by Krikel in Pireus Bank and in 2019 an amount of 50,000 euros was transferred to Viniato from Krikel’s Optima Bank account.
In May 2020, the month that Felix Bitzios acquires 35% of Intellexa, Krikel moves its headquarters to Marousi, to offices belonging to a third Cypriot company of Bitzios interests, Layth Capital Ventures, with a rent of 5,000 euros per month. The relations between Krikel of Lavranos’ interests and Layth Capital Ventures of Bitzios’ interests, date back to at least November 2019, at least according to the movement of Krikel’s accounts in Optima Bank.
However, the most interesting finding in these bank account movements, which inside story brings to light today for the first time, is the movement of funds between Krikel and Intellexa. The two companies had at least one transaction in July 2020 (the same month that were bought the first pseudo-domains for the trapping and surveillance of targets through Predator in Greece): On 22/7/2020 a transfer of 155,000 euros from Intellexa to Krikel appears via the European payment system (SEPA) and on the same day an equal outgoing amount from Krikel at Intellexa.
In July, the National Transparency Authority (NTA, or ΕΑΔ in Greek) handed over its report to journalist Thanasis Koukakis, regarding his own surveillance through Predator, noting that it found no connection between the State and Intellexa. The journalist, in his own report towards the NTA in May, had asked the authority to lift banking confidentiality for all the companies involved in the case, namely Intellexa, Apollo Technologies, Hermes Technologies, Feroveno and Krikel. Something which the authority failed to do in its inadequate controlling of these companies.
If the bank account movements between Intellexa and Krikel and between Krikel and companies of Felix Bitzios’ (i.e. Intellexa’s shareholder) interests had been correlated, the accurate picture would have emerged, which does not appear, judging from the results, to have been the intention of the NTA.
The many omissions in NTA’s controlling had been noted as early as July by inside story. The interim head of the National Transparency Authority, Alexandra Rogakou, who took over after the conclusion of the investigation under Angelos Binis (who left the NTA for Frontex), admitted in her testimony before the commission of inquiry for wiretapping, that the audit had limited scope, based on the audit mandate of the former head of the NTA, Mr. Binis, and in particular, it exclusively concerned the contracts signed by Krikel with the Greek government and not the detailed financial and management audit of the company, its relationship with other companies, the unseen partners and its parallel activities.
The prime minister, in his recent special television interview with ANT1 – after the publication of a list of 33 names of Predator surveillance targets in a Sunday newspaper – invoked (as the government spokesperson has done in the past) the “exculpatory” conclusion of the NTA as proof that the Greek government had no involvement in the illegal surveillance, also stating that the NTA investigation is still ongoing – even though we know full well taht it has been completed for months.
Shahak Avni has been Tal Dilian’s closest associate for at least the last nine years – first at company Wispear and then at Intellexa, which succeeded it. Avni is extremely well networked in Cyprus, both with DISY president Averof Neophytou and with the country’s president, Nikos Anastasiadis. At some point in 2018, he meets a Greek businessman, who introduces him to the Greek market. Later, he will meet Felix Bitzios, who in turn will put him in touch with Yiannis Lavranou. Thus Avni “discovers” the Greek market before his partner Tal Dilian, a few weeks after the victory of the ND in the elections of 7th July 2019.
Avni Sahak becomes the man who introduced Predator software in Greece, before Intellexa (founded in March 2020) was even created in the country. This timeline is agreed by two sources from private companies, who were close to the negotiation regarding the introduction of the software in Greece in the summer of 2019. We note here that when Avni comes to present the Predator surveillance system to the Greek services, not only Intellexa has not yet been founded, but the uproar about the spying van of Dilian’s previous company, WiSpear, has not even broken out in Cyprus yet – the scandal that caused him to look for alternative headquarters for his companies, which he finally found in Greece.< /p>
The illegal surveillance system is located in a space controlled by the Greek government in Agia Paraskevi, where 2-3 Israelis, employees of the Dilian group, as well as police and EYP employees work, while Krikel also has access to the same area.< /p>
The system was initially used on a trial basis against “foreign targets”. “For a period of several months, tests were being carried out until the general use of the system in August 2020”, a source who worked closely with Tal Dilian and the head of the EYP Panagiotis Kontoleontas since the fall of 2019 told inside story. “But things got out of hand and it started being used internally in the country, at first alongside foreign targets and then ever increasingly,” added the same source. In September 2020, the greatest number of links per month (which are sent to phones and lead, if clicked, to domains that introduce the illegal software to the phone) were created, 11 in total, giving also the measure of the quantitative capabilities of the system, which could record 10 targets simultaneously.
After the introduction of the software in Greece, a delegation of government officials and private individuals travels to Israel, where they tour various critical intelligence gathering infrastructures of the country and it is decided that the company Intellexa will be located in Athens, which takes place in March 2020 – following the crisis with Tal Dilian’s van in Larnaca, after the relevant video was shown on Forbes. In May 2020, Bitzios’ Santinomo buys 35% of Intellexa and the Greeks become Dilian’s partners.
The staff who initially installed the system had no relation whatsoever to the Intellexa personnel, which is hired after the establishment of the company in Athens in November 2020 (the first hires took place on November 16 and 17, 2020 and involved a Greek and an Israeli with a French passport).
|At the end of 2019, a proposal was made to the Secretary General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Grigoris Dimitriadis, for the purchase of Pegasus, the spyware produced and marketed by Dilian’s competitor, NSO – the company seems to have been unaware of the moves Avni had already made in Greece. The proposal is officially submitted in January 2020 – a month before Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis travels to Israel. It concerns a government to government agreement. The scheme proposed by the Israeli company means that “the private individual would withdraw after the signing of the agreement and EYP would cooperate in the operation of the system after its installation with Mossad”. The 50 million euros for his purchase would initially be covered by the Israeli side, with the Greek side repaying the amount to the Israelis over time. The proposal was not succesful.|
The establishment of Intellexa in Greece coincides, according to three independent sources with knowledge of the matter, with its intention to be active in other areas of the digital economy, such as e.g. in the joint creation with Krikel of a coronavirus application at the Ministry of Civil Protection (a project that did not go ahead) and the development of software for drones. For this purpose, Intellexa brings to Athens an employee of the Israeli company Convexum, which specializes in software that can interfere with drone software. Convexum was then owned by Intellexa’s competitor, NSO. The employee’s social media identity shows that he works for two companies – the cooperation of Israeli companies working abroad is common. This employee receives a residence permit in less than two months from the Ministry of Immigration at the end of 2021, however this cooperation has no concrete results for the Greek side. “In the end, all that was left was the software and a pretty damaging account for the country,” a source familiar with the background of the government’s dealings with Intellexa told inside story.
The Israeli company gradually withdrew from the management of the system which, according to sources close to the Israelis, remained in the hands of the Greek side after 2021. Intellexa SA. focused on the very profitable activity of software exports from our country, which in total approach 250 million euros in value. It is worth noting that 40% of these relate to sales in countries on the African continent, which is plagued by authoritarian regimes and civil strife that cost innocent lives – countries where the best customers for such software-weapons are most likely to be found. As a reminder, the European Union has a legal framework on the basis of which member countries from which such exports are conducted must weigh the risk of human rights violations by authoritarian or dictatorial regimes that request the supply of similar software. In Greece, such exports must be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after a proposal by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Intellexa has not requested such licenses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In Israel, the situation is anxiously monitored regarding the future of relations of special software development companies with European countries, as well as the rest of the world. Sources close to the company believe that the developments in Greece confirm that the sole responsibility for the disastrous management of Predator lies with the people who undertook to manage the system on behalf of the Greek government, without the company having any responsibility – but wherever Tal Dilian’s group is located, his Greek “heritage” will follow him. The irony is that, according to two sources close to the process, Dillian has not received the full amount agreed (while other parties involved have been paid as normal), while, in June 2022, Predator services ceased to be billed. Shahak Avni, who we found on Saturday evening on his Cypriot mobile phone, refused to make the slightest comment on the question of what exactly he had negotiated with the Greek authorities.
The Israelis meanwhile appear, after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu a few days ago, to be reverting to the earlier proposal for a collaboration between the agencies of the two governments to run special surveillance software from another company – just days after the Greek government had assured Intellexa that it could stay in the country.
It doesn’t look like Greece-Intellexa relations can be shaken easily: according to an offer sent by Intellexa to prospective buyers of Predator abroad, at the end of March 2022, while the company allows its prospective customer to “hit” targets in five additional countries, it expressly excludes three: the USA, Israel and Greece. A fact that possibly reveals a special relationship between the company and the three aforementioned countries.