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German weekly Der Spiegel reveals the network of entrepreneurs behind the Predator spy software

It is a software used by the governments of countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Oman, Indonesia and Madagascar to monitor opponents and journalists

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It is the Intellexa Alliance, the network of entrepreneurs "among the most mysterious and dangerous in Europe", which has contributed to the spread of the Predator espionage software, used by the governments of countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Oman, Indonesia and Madagascar to monitor opponents and journalists. This is what is revealed by an investigation conducted by the German weekly "Der Spiegel" with the French publishing group Mediapart, in which the international association for investigative journalism European Investigative Collaborations (Eic) and the non-governmental organization Amnesty International collaborated. Research has shown that Germany, the "self-proclaimed home of data protection", plays a central role in the issue. In particular, a Hamburg entrepreneur "well connected in politics", Nico Scharfe, bought two companies involved in the case, while a Berlin patron, Yoram Roth, financed the development of the Predator. At the origins of the program is Tal Dilian, formerly in command of Unit 81, the technology department of the special operations division of the Directorate for Military Information (Aman) of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). After 25 years of service, Dilian left Aman on charges of “unjust enrichment” and became an entrepreneur in the surveillance industry. In 2018, the former officer came across a start-up in North Macedonia, Cytrox, whose programmers were working on espionage software. However, given the costs of operations, the company risked bankruptcy. With his company Aliada, Dilian then took over Cytrox to complete the program that would become the Predator.


The former commander of Unit 81 obtained the necessary funds from Davidson Technology Growth Debt of Zossen, near Berlin, a financial company whose CEO was Eran Davidson, who arrived in Germany from Tel Aviv in 2005. In particular, Dilian was granted a loan worth tens of millions of euros, with the money coming from a fund managed by Dadivdson in which Leo Rokeach, managing director of Lankwitzer Lackfabrik, and the real estate entrepreneur Artur Suesskind had invested. Other investors included hotel owner Michael Zehden, Rolf Christof Dienst, co-founder of the real estate portal Immoscout, and Heinrich Arnold, former head of Deutsche Telekom's research and development department. Then there was Yoram Roth, a real estate entrepreneur in Berlin, known as an art collector and patron. As "Der Spiegel" notes, Roth did not limit himself to investing in the fund that contributed to the development of the Predator, but directly financed Aliada with 1,5 million dollars, obtaining a 2,5 percent stake in the company. Dilian. In 2019, in Cyprus, the former commander of Aman Unit 81 presented the Predator to some journalists from the US magazine "Forbes", demonstrating its effectiveness. On that occasion, Dilian stated that the program had been developed by the Intellexa Alliance, a consortium of European surveillance companies intent on supporting each other and providing security authorities with the most modern spying tools. “We only work with the good ones, but sometimes the good ones don't behave well,” declared Aliada's CEO.

At the center of the Intellexa Alliance is a French company with German participation, whose founders include Stéphane Salies, previously at the helm of Amesys, a technology company that had the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) among its clients. , France's intelligence agency. Additionally, Amesys sold its mass surveillance program to Libya Muhammad Gaddafi. After the fall of the "rais" in 2011, the US newspaper "The Wall Street Journal" discovered the connections between Salies' company and the Libyan secret services. The company was sued by two human rights organizations on charges of aiding and abetting torture. As revealed by “Der Spiegel” with Mediapart, Amesys actually had to dissolve in order not to lose customers and financiers following the scandal. Salies then founded Nexa Technologies in France and Advanced Middle East Systems based in Dubai (Ames). Nexa took over Amesys products, renaming the Eagle software Cerebro. Salies' two companies would become "crucial players" in the Intellexa Alliance, obtaining investments from Hamburg's Plath Group which, specializing in "early detection of crises based on data", has as CEO Nico Scharfe, known for close contacts with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In particular, between 2014 and 2015, the Plath Group purchased a 30 percent stake in both Nexa and Ames.

Although it was a minority stake, Scharfe's company obtained two of the four seats on Nexa's board of directors and the CEO became a member of the board of directors. Since Alloara, the company founded by Salies has not been able to make “any relevant decisions” without the approval of the Plath Group, necessary for example for all contracts exceeding 200 thousand euros and for transactions with high-risk customers. Furthermore, the Plath Group has obtained the right to request any important documents from Nexa at any time. Scharfe's company then had to examine the exports of Salies' company, which had to undertake not to supply any country subject to an arms embargo. In this context, the Plath Group sold Nexa devices in Jordan, Austria and Switzerland. In exchange, the French company supplied the German company's products to the Ministry of Defense in Paris. At the same time, the Plath Group opened the markets of Mexico, Mongolia, Rwanda, Venezuela, Taiwan in Ames, as well as the doors of the Federal Information Service (Bnd), Germany's external intelligence agency.

In early 2014, Ames entered into a contract to sell the Cerebro program to Egypt, which has been ruled since 2013 by President Abdel Fatah al Sisi. Salies traveled to the country several times, he must have had contacts in the Egyptian military intelligence services. From the operation called “Toblerone”, Ames earned around 12 million euros. Cerebro was then sold in France, Qatar, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and the principality of Monaco. However, espionage software proved to be increasingly less effective in the face of security standards developed by providers of electronic messaging services, such as HTTPS. Nexa and Ames therefore “urgently needed new tools,” which they found in the products of the Dilian Aliada, particularly in the Predator. In February 2019, the three companies joined together as the Intellexa Alliance. In 2020, through Ames, Egypt purchased this program for the technical research department of its Egyptian secret services with an order worth 9,5 million euros. Around the same time, the Predator was sold to Vietnam for 5,6 million euros. Furthermore, Ames offered products worth nine million euros to General Khalifa Haftar who, in command of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), controls eastern Libya. In December 2020, a contract for the purchase of at least part of these materials by the LNA was reportedly concluded, with the buyer paying an advance. Shortly thereafter, the Plath Group announced the end of all investments in Ames and Nexta.

As deliveries to the LNA approached in May 2021, Salies called the company's legal department in Hamburg to inform them of "a request from a super-evil country." The businessman wanted to know whether the operation was "completely prohibited" or whether it was possible to carry it out, adding that it concerned Libya and in particular "Haftar's side". The Plath Group responded that “we do not do business with countries under arms embargoes.” Salies then proposed to circumvent this ban through a company in England, another in the United Arab Emirates and Ames. The Plath Group gave his consent, arguing that if the LNA material was “combined with other goods” after arriving in the Emirates, the end customer should not be subject to export controls. Similarly, to initiate business in Algeria, an Ames espionage tool was declared as a “computer server” upon boarding. To overcome a failed export license for Saudi Arabia, Salies' company considered shipping it to Kenya and from there bringing it to the Persian Gulf country. In order to circumvent EU export controls, Ames' "biggest advantage" was its headquarters in Dubai, as Salies himself wrote in a letter to a Pakistani intelligence general in 2014. In in particular, the entrepreneur stated that in the emirate "there are no lengthy export controls that we have to undergo and there is not even the risk that export licenses will be refused".

The Ames documents show that employees received special bonuses equal to “4 percent of the margin earned” if they did business with three “risk countries,” namely Iraq, Afghanistan. and Libya. In their activities, Salies and Ames could count on the support of France, one of the main buyers of the company's products. Contacts in Paris reached as far as the French president, Emmanuel Macron. In April 2018, representatives of Nexa allegedly obtained an appointment at the Elysée with Macron himself, Alexandre Benalla, then responsible for his security, and a general. As “Der Spiegel” notes, this could explain why Salies was able to sell controversial surveillance technologies “for so long” and why the Plath Group did business with Ames. Salies had, in fact, “access to the highest circles and to very lucrative contracts”. A document from January 2021 lists no fewer than 18 orders with the French army, the DGSE and various ministries in Paris with a total value of around ten million euros. Furthermore, after having had to leave the Elysée in 2018 after a series of scandals, Benalla today presents himself as an “international consultant” and also works for Nexa. With Salies, Macron's former security manager exchanged 499 messages on WhatsApp "in just under a year and a half". In 2020, Benalla made a Nexa CEO appointment with a supposedly influential member of the Saudi royal house, who he described as “very close” to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of the Al Saud monarchy.

After the interviews, Nexa offered the Riyadh authorities surveillance tools worth over 14 million euros. According to Citizen Lab, theSaudi Arabia is among the countries that have used the Predator program. Regarding contacts between the Intellexa Alliance and Germany, the federal government has announced that information on the matter could compromise "the well-being of the state". At the same time, the Berlin executive admitted that, since 2021, the Center for IT in the Security Sector (Zitis) has been in contact with both the Intellexa Alliance and Cytrox in order to obtain “portfolio information ”. However, from Nexa documents, it appears that Zitis is a client of the 2019 Intellexa Alliance with the code name “Bavaria”, given its headquarters in Munich. Salies' company sold two monitoring instruments to Zitis for around one million euros, including maintenance. When asked about this, the German Interior Ministry replied that it could not comment "so as not to endanger the investigative capacity of the security authorities".

From the investigation by “Der Spiegel” e Mediapart it then emerges that representatives of the Intellexa Alliance have had contacts with Hensoldt, a German defense electronics group in which the federal government and Leonardo hold shares of 25,1 percent. In particular, the two companies have concluded "a confidentiality agreement" to discuss "possible integrations and technological developments". Classified as "confidential", the agreement dates back to 2021 and is valid for five years. The document states that “confidential information subject to a national security classification” may be shared by Hensoldt with the Intellexa Alliance. The group did not inform the federal government of either the agreement or the negotiations with the consortium. Despite all the high-level contacts, Salies and his companies have been the subject of investigations, in 2011 for sales to the LNA and in 2017 for sales to Egypt. The entrepreneur resigned as CEO of Nexa, but retained this position in Ames, moving to Dubai and maintaining close ties between the two companies. As "Der Spiegel" highlights, in 2021 "the bomb exploded", with the French Gendarmerie carrying out searches in the offices and homes of Nexa executives. Salies was arrested by the French Central Office for Combating War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (OCLCH) of the same body. During interrogations, Salies stated that his activities were "confidential" and "subject to secrecy", therefore he could not provide information on them. At the same time, the CEO stressed that he had not committed any wrongdoing

Accused of belonging to a criminal association, Salies defended himself in a joint statement with Nexa and Ames in which the parties highlighted that they had complied with all "applicable regulations" and that they had been "encouraged" by the French state to conclude some of the contracts under investigation. In numerous cases, "the path chosen by France of close collaboration" with the countries purchasing Nexa and Ames products was "simply followed". However, after the Gendarmerie searches, the contracts for the Predator were terminated and Benalla was never paid. Following the investigation, last February, Nexa renamed itself RB 42, which claims to deal exclusively with defensive cybersecurity. Ames was, however, sold to its own management and is among the owners Salies. In 2020, the Predator program was sold to Thalestris, a Lugano IT services company, owned by Andrea Gambazzi. According to “Der Spiegel”, this is the “classic straw man”. Gambazzi holds, in fact, 51 percent of the voting rights in the company personally and the remaining 49 percent "on behalf of third parties". It was then Gambazzi himself who concluded the confidentiality agreement with Hensoldt on behalf of the Intellexa Alliance. Roth's stake in this consortium was transferred in 2020 to Thalestris, with the patron noting that he would never invest in the development of a program such as Predator. The other investors who supported Dilian did not comment, while it appears that the CEO of Thlestris is Sara Hamou, a Polish citizen and lawyer specializing in offshore companies, partner of the former commander of Aman Unit 81.

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