PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Najib Razak (pic) has denied knowledge of spyware from an Israeli company being used by the Special Branch for surveillance on civilian activity just before the 14th General Election (GE14) in May 2018.
The former prime minister said he was not in charge of the Home Ministry then and he never told the Special Branch what they should use.
“They decide themselves. Is it my job to grade and look for software to purchase?” he said in a Facebook post Friday (May 29).
He was responding to a news report by an Israeli news website that claimed the Malaysian government, then led by Najib, had signed a deal to acquire a system that allowed it to gather information and analyse data on civilian activity just before GE14.
According to Israeli financial daily The Calcalist, the company that developed and supplied the system to the Malaysian government was Senpai Technologies Ltd, a small Israeli cybersecurity startup.
Its report – based on court documents it reviewed – alleged that the system was to be used by Malaysia’s Special Branch for surveillance on political activists linked to the then Opposition.
The report also claimed that the deal, named “Project Magnum, ” was signed in April 2018 with a price tag of US$1.5mil (RM6mil).
“If this purchase really did happen, it did not involve the Prime Minister’s office. In April 2018, we had already dissolved Parliament and we were busy campaigning, ” said Najib.
The Calcalist said that since Israel and Malaysia do not have official diplomatic relations, the deal was signed through a Cypriot conduit company called Kohai Corp Ltd, which was founded by two Senpai shareholders for the sole purpose of serving as a front for such deals.
The Malaysian government had allegedly mentioned in email correspondence that it was using the system for “political investigations״.
This is not the first time that Najib’s administration has been embroiled in a “spyware” controversy. In 2015, news broke that Malaysian government entities had been using Milan-based Hacking Team’s spyware after the Italian company was hacked and details posted on its Twitter feed.
Meanwhile, Senpai’s flagship product is RogueEye, a system that collects information on people from openly available online sources such as social networks, and cross-references and analyses it to produce intelligence reports for the secret service, police, military as well as businesses.
Among RogueEye’s official data collection methods is a network of avatars (fake social network profiles) that follow the target and extract information through direct interaction with them.
The report said that Senpai was ready to sign a new contract with the Special Branch one year after the 2018 election, although this required adjusting the goals of the original contract in light of Umno’s defeat.
GE14 was held in May, with Pakatan Harapan kicking out Barisan Nasional from power. The Pakatan government however crumbled not even two years later.
“The client got the documents and we are waiting for his response, ” Senpai co-founder and head of sales Roy Shloman said, referring to “Magnum” in an email sent to fellow co-founders Guy David, Omri Raiter, and Eric Banoun on June 10,2019.
“As you know, after the elections many things changed and became a bit more complicated, ” Shloman wrote, adding that he wanted to plan a visit to Kuala Lumpur.
“Bear in mind, that their objectives changed after elections from political investigations to more criminal-terror investigations, ” he wrote.
For Malaysia’s phase two agreements, Senpai was to get US$300,000-$400,000 (RM1.2mil-1.6mil) from the Special Branch, between US$2mil-2.5 mil (RM8mil-10mil) from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), between US$800,000-2.2mil (RM3.2mil-RM8.8mil) from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), and a similar sum from the police.
The Calcalist report said Senpai was founded in 2016 by five local tech veterans and that last month, a dispute between the company’s co-founders ended when the parties signed a confidential settlement and requested the court cancel the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was originally filed by three co-founders who alleged that two of their partners conspired with cyber-focused consortium Intellexa Ltd to steal the company away from them.
The report said that Senpai, whose activity is now frozen, is just one of many Israeli cybersecurity companies that do not shy away from working with “totalitarian regimes” and countries that have no relations with Israel.
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