WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An Israeli private investigator currently in US custody used Indian hackers to conduct surveillance operations for ultra-wealthy Russians, a reporter said in a court filing late Wednesday.
Independent journalist Scott Stedman told a court in New York that jailed private detective Aviram Azari worked “on surveillance and cyber-intelligence operations at the behest of Russian oligarchs,” citing a mix of public reporting and confidential sources.
Stedman said in a declaration that one of the Russian oligarchs concerned was aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, whom he said indirectly employed Azari in connection with a business dispute in Austria.
Deripaska’s spokeswoman said in an email that the allegations were “blatantly untrue.” A lawyer for Azari, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft in a separate case, did not return messages.
Stedman made his declaration in support of his request to subpoena Azari for evidence to fight a UK libel suit filed against him by British-Israeli security consultant Walter Soriano in 2020.
In a series of articles for his publication, Forensic News, Stedman claimed, among other things, that Soriano was a middleman between wealthy Russians and surveillance firms.
Soriano denied the allegations and sued over the articles, accusing Stedman of mounting a campaign of defamation, invasion of privacy, and harassment.
Stedman’s lawyer told the New York court that “multiple confidential sources” told the reporter that Azari “worked closely with Soriano for years” and thus the jailed private eye’s testimony and documents could “corroborate the truth of Forensic News’ reporting.”
In an email to Reuters, Soriano’s lawyer Shlomo Rechtschaffen said that Stedman’s claims were “false and unfounded” and that the reporter “has no evidence” that his client and Azari worked together as alleged.
In a statement to Reuters, Stedman said he had “very strong reason to believe that Mr Azari worked with Mr Soriano on cyber-related projects for multiple Russian oligarchs and other billionaires” and that he was subpoenaing Azari as part of an effort “to defend my journalism and my business.”
Azari is currently being held in federal prison in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing in relation to a hacking campaign tied to the defunct German financial technology company Wirecard AG, his lawyer said last month.
Reuters reported last year that Azari was accused of hiring the Indian hacking firm BellTroX on behalf of powerful clients. BellTroX, which has also been accused of hacking by cybersecurity researchers at Facebook and elsewhere, could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)