September 5, 2019 / 10:39 AM / 3 months ago

German firm investigated after report of sending spyware to Turkey

MUNICH (Reuters) - German prosecutors said on Thursday they are investigating a Bavarian company named in a media investigation as supplying software to Turkey for spying on the opposition via phones.

The Munich prosecutors said they were looking at directors and employees of FinFisher and two other companies, which they did not name, after receiving a report in July this year.

“We are investigating possible violations of export law,” they said in a statement to Reuters, without giving more detail.

A media alliance, comprising broadcasters and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, reported on Thursday that FinFisher’s software, named Finspy, was believed to have been deployed on phones of activists in a 2017 protest against mass arrests by President Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

It allowed authorities to access the address books and photo and video stores of the phones, the media consortium said.

There was no immediate reply to requests for comment from FinFisher by email and telephone. Nor was there immediate comment from the German government or Turkey.

In 2018, when the allegations first surfaced in the same media group, the German Economy Ministry said it had not issued a licence to export the software. Prosecutors added in Thursday’s statement that they had already opened a preliminary investigation in May that year in response to media reports.

Ties between NATO members Germany and Turkey are already fraught. German authorities are concerned at Ankara’s influence over the 3 million people of Turkish background in the country, even as Berlin relies on Turkey to help prevent more refugee waves like the one that convulsed Europe in 2015.

The German media outlets said they had seen a deposition from several activist groups, including Reporters without Borders and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, containing an analysis of the software’s source code that they said suggested it was provided by the German company.

The deposition named five directors of the company and further unspecified employees, they reported.

In a statement, the NGO groups said they had filed criminal complaints against company officials for exporting the software without a licence. They said the spyware had been planted on a “fake version” of a Turkish opposition website.

“It is outrageous and unacceptable to see German spyware being used against journalists and opposition voices in Turkey,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporters Without Borders Germany.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Joern Poltz and Hakan Ersen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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