Irish companies that are part of a European spyware group have not sought a licence for the export of the technology, a spokesman for the Department of Trade has said.
The Intellexa Group, which was founded by a former Israeli intelligence agent, is owned by a holding company with an address in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, and has an active and a dormant subsidiary registered at the same address, according to filings in the Companies Registration Office (CRO).
The group produces a software product called Predator that can secretly take over the microphone and camera on a targeted mobile phone and turn it into a spying device.
The group’s offices in Athens were raided two weeks ago as part of an ongoing controversy there about the use of the technology to spy on Greek politicians and journalists. It is not clear who is using the technology.
Spyware is “dual use” technology or technology that can have military and non-military use. Under EU law, exports of such technologies require a licence from the government of the member state from which the products are being exported.
A Canadian cybersecurity watchdog organisation called Citizen Lab has said it has detected the use of Predator in Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Columbia, Ivory Coast, Vietnam, the Philippines and Germany.
It is not known which Intellexa subsidiaries sold the technology to these countries. Because the group’s Irish subsidiaries have never sought an export licence, it appears the Irish businesses are not involved in the product’s distribution. A request for a comment was met with no response.
Last month an NGO in the Netherlands called Lighthouse Reports said it had established that the software had been sold to a notorious militia in Sudan called Rapid Support Forces. Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews has expressed concern about the report and said most Irish people would be “shocked” to learn that an Irish holding company might be connected to a business supplying surveillance software to a successor of the Janjaweed militia in Sudan.
Entrepreneur and former Israeli intelligence officer Tal Dilian founded the Intellexa spyware operation. He ran it from Cyprus up to 2019. After he got into trouble with the Cypriot authorities, he opened new branches of the group in Greece and elsewhere.
CRO records show that a new holding company for the group, Thalestris Ltd, with an address at Unit 2D, Fingal Bay Business Park, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, was incorporated in November 2019. Another company, Intellexa Ltd, of the same address, was incorporated in January 2020. Another subsidiary, Elpidina Ltd, at the same address, was incorporated in February 2021. Elpidina has yet to begin to trade.
Both Thalestris and Intellexa file the same consolidated group accounts. In the accounts, the activity of Intellexa Ltd is described as providing “intelligence products for law enforcement agencies”.
The Intellexa group of companies had sales of €34.3 million in 2021, up from €20.8 million the previous year, and recorded a pretax loss of €6.68 million, according to the accounts. The bulk of the group’s sales was in the Middle East (€29.5 million), though there were also sales in Europe (€2.2 million), Africa (€900,000), Asia (€1.9 million) and Latin and Central America (€206,000).
“The principal activity of the group is to provide intelligence products for law enforcement agencies, design, development and licensing of software products and applications,” according to the accounts.
As part of a recent report on spyware, the New York Times published a copy of a 2021 proposal from Intellexa to the Ukrainian intelligence services whereby the spyware would be provided at a cost of €13.6 million for the first year of use. The offer was not taken up, according to the report. The group has companies in different jurisdictions that use the name Intellexa and the document does not say which subsidiary with that name was making the offer.
As well as its Irish subsidiaries, the group has four companies in Greece, three in the British Virgin Islands, two in Cyprus, and one in Switzerland, according to the consolidated accounts filed in Ireland.
A request for a comment from the group about its Irish operations and the recent Lighthouse report met with no response.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade said a licence is required for the export of dual-use items. It is the export transactions that are licensed, not the exporting entity. No licence applications had been received from Thalestris or Intellexa, said the spokesman.
Sara Hamou, a Polish national with an address in Cyprus, is a director of Thalestris, Intellexa and Elpidina, as well as a number of other Irish companies that do not appear to be part of the Intellexa group. She is married to Mr Dilian, according to the Israeli media outlet Haaretz, which worked with Lighthouse Reports on the investigation into Intellexa.