A recent investigation by Der Spiegel and the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network has uncovered how European companies and investors have enabled the proliferation of dangerous spyware tools used to surveil journalists, dissidents, and political opponents worldwide.
The recent Der Spiegel report focuses on Predator, a powerful spyware program former Israeli military intelligence officers developed. Predator can secretly infiltrate smartphones and extract messages, photos, contacts, and location data. It employs a “zero-click” method that allows phones to be infected without any action by the user, making it extremely stealthy.
Predator was created around 2018 when Israeli surveillance entrepreneur Tal Dilian acquired a Macedonian startup called Cytrox that was developing the spyware. Dilian obtained financing to complete Predator from European investors, including around $12 million from Davidson Technology Growth Debt in Germany. This fund was backed by wealthy German individuals, including Berlin investor Yoram Roth, who took a personal 2.5% stake in Dilian’s company behind Predator.
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With funding secured, Dilian formed the Intellexa Alliance, a consortium of spyware vendors that aimed to equip intelligence agencies and authoritarian regimes with surveillance tools. Intellexa combined Predator with products from other companies, including the French-based Nexa Technologies.
Nexa was founded by Stéphane Salies, who had previously sold internet spying systems to Libya’s Gaddafi regime and Egypt’s al-Sisi government. Yet Nexa gained credibility through investment and partnership with the German company Plath Group.
The Plath Group’s involvement lent Nexa legitimacy, even as Nexa and allies like Dubai-based Advanced Middle East Systems (AMES) sold Predator and other spyware to authoritarian regimes like Egypt, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia. The companies appear to have frequently bypassed export restrictions.
The report reveals how Predator has been detected in countries with records of human rights abuses like Turkey, Kazakhstan, UAE, Qatar, and Rwanda. In Greece, it was used to target journalists and politicians. Predator’s stealthiness makes full accountability difficult.
Experts say European spyware makers operate in a largely unregulated environment, supplying shady regimes despite human rights concerns. Strict export controls exist on paper, but companies find ways to bypass them.
Sophie in’t Veld, a European Parliament member investigating spyware abuses, says governments face pressure from security agencies demanding advanced surveillance tools. She is advocating for stronger national and EU regulations on the spyware industry.
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