German prosecutors have charged four former company executives with illegally selling software to Turkey’s secret services to spy on the country’s opposition, Agence France-Presse reported on Monday, citing German officials.
The suspects were from FinFisher, a Munich-based company that develops and sells spyware to law enforcement agencies and intelligence services.
They are charged with breaking laws that ban the sale of “dual-use” products — which can be used for both civilian and military purposes — to countries outside the European Union, unless authorities grant approval.
According to Munich prosecutors, the company allegedly signed a contract worth over 5 million euros ($5.4 million) in 2015 to sell monitoring software to Turkish secret services, along with training and support.
In 2017 the “FinSpy” software was offered to a Turkish opposition movement for download from a fake website “under false pretenses, in order to spy on them,” the prosecutors said.
The spyware allows its users to gain control of computers and smartphones and monitor communications.
In an effort to hide FinFisher’s involvement, a Bulgarian company was named on the contract as the seller of the spyware.
Neither the German nor the Bulgarian authorities issued a license for the export of the software, the prosecutors said.
German authorities began investigating after four NGOs that defend press freedom and human rights filed complaints in 2019.
The charges were filed in Munich district court earlier this month.
Concerns about the use of spyware have been growing since a 2017 investigation into Pegasus software by a consortium of media outlets.
It found Pegasus was used in various countries to spy on 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 rights activists and 65 business executives.