German firm accused of selling Turkey surveillance software used in attempt at spying on opposition

German firm accused of selling Turkey surveillance software used in attempt at spying on opposition
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the opposition unity candidate challenging Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the Turkish presidency. / CHP
By bne IntelIiNews May 22, 2023

Prosecutors in Munich on May 22 said that they have filed charges against four suspects from a Bavarian company accused of selling surveillance software to Turkey, alleging that it was used in an attempt at spying on the country’s opposition.

The case comes at a time when Turkey is preparing for its pivotal May 28 presidential run-off election in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan will bid to extend his time as leader of the country into a third decade. The surveillance software was offered for download in 2017 via a fake website to the Turkish opposition movement under false pretences in order to spy on them, prosecutors said, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The prosecutors said the defendants from the FinFisher company intentionally violated licensing requirements for dual-use goods in selling the FinSpy surveillance software to a non-EU country. Sales were allegedly routed through a Bulgarian company to dodge the permitting process required for selling such products outside the EU.

The suspects are charged with commercial violations of the German trade and payments act in three separate cases. The charges were filed at the Munich I Regional Court.

The prosecutors opened the investigation into FinFisher in 2019, after receiving complaints from a group of NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders Germany and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The FinSpy software, sold in a deal with the Turkish government worth $5m, allegedly ended up in the hands of the Turkish security services, according to the Financial Times. It cited prosecutors as saying activists were targeted with fake websites supposedly linked to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the longtime leader of Turkey’s biggest opposition party and the opposition unity candidate who will challenge Erdogan in the upcoming Sunday election.

The websites were associated with Kilicdaroglu’s “March for Justice”, a protest against a purge launched by Erdogan’s administration after the 2016 Turkey coup attempt, according to the initial complaint filed by the rights groups to prosecutors, the UK daily added. 

German prosecutors began investigating the four suspects in 2019, when several human rights organisations raised concerns that the software was being used to target the Turkish opposition.

FinFisher formally filed for insolvency in 2021, after nearly a decade of marketing FinSpy. The software can access the target’s messages, phone calls, camera and microphone. It has been linked to secret services around the world.