A reporter said at a court hearing Wednesday evening that an Israeli special investigator currently in US custody has used Indian hackers to conduct surveillance of ultra-rich Russians.
Freelance journalist Scott Steadman told a New York court that imprisoned special counsel Aviram Azari worked “in surveillance and electronic intelligence operations at the behest of Russian oligarchs,” citing a mixture of public reporting and confidential sources.
In a statement, Steadman said one of the members of the Russian oligarchs involved was aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who he said had indirectly employed Azari in connection with a trade dispute in Austria.
Deripaska’s spokeswoman said in an email that the allegations were “blatantly untrue.” Azari’s lawyer, who pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft in a separate case, did not return letters.
Steadman made his announcement in support of his request to subpoena Azari for evidence to fight a US defamation suit brought against him by British-Israeli security adviser Walter Soriano in 2020.
In a series of articles for his publication, Forensic News, Steadman claimed, among other things, that Soriano was an intermediary between wealthy Russians and surveillance firms.
Soriano denied the allegations and sued the articles, accusing Steadman of a campaign of defamation, invasion of privacy and harassment.
Steadman’s attorney told the New York court that “multiple confidential sources” told the reporter that Azari had “worked closely with Soriano for years” and so the imprisoned private eye’s testimony and documents could “corroborate the forensic news reports.”
In an email to Reuters, Soriano’s lawyer Shlomo Richchavin said Steadman’s allegations were “false and baseless” and that the reporter had “no evidence” that his client and Azari had worked together as he allegedly did.
In a statement to Reuters, Steadman said he had “very strong reason to believe that Mr. Azari had worked with Mr. Soriano on cyber-related projects for a number of Russian oligarchs and other billionaires” and that he was recalling Azari as part of an effort “to defend my journalism and my business.”
His attorney said, last month, that Azari is currently being held in a federal prison in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing in connection with a hacking campaign linked to defunct German financial technology company Wirecard AG.
Reuters reported last year that Azari was accused of hiring Indian hacker BellTroX on behalf of powerful clients. BellTroX, which has also been accused by cybersecurity researchers of hacking at Facebook and elsewhere, could not be reached for comment.
© Thomson Reuters 2022