French technology

French executives face torture charges for selling spy gear to Libya, Egypt

An member of the Egyptian special forces.French technology companies are accused of selling surveillance equipment to Egypt and Libya, which human rights groups say were used to imprison and torture regime opponents.
An member of the Egyptian special forces.French technology companies are accused of selling surveillance equipment to Egypt and Libya, which human rights groups say were used to imprison and torture regime opponents. © Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP

Current and former executives at two French technology companies have been charged with complicity in torture for selling surveillance equipment to Libya and Egypt that was used to track down opponents, who were then detained and tortured.

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Investigating magistrates in the war crimes unit of the Paris tribunal have charged the former chief of Amesys, Philippe Vannier, and three current and former executives of Nexa Technologies, with "complicity in acts of torture”, according to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

Judicial sources confirmed that Philippe Vannier, who was CEO of Amesys until 2010, was charged in connection with selling equipment to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Olivier Bohbot, the president of Nexa, along with the company’s director general, Renaud Roques, and former president Stephane Salies, were charged with "complicity in acts of torture and forced disappearances" for selling material to the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Spying and torture

The FIDH says the technology was used by the Libyan and Egyptian regimes to spy on opposition figures, who were later detained and tortured, in particular during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The indictments are “a tremendous step forward” in the case, Patrick Baudouin and Clémence Bectarte, FIDH lawyers, said in a statement.

“It means that what we see every day on the ground – namely the links between the activity of these surveillance companies and human rights violations – can be classified as crimes and lead to charges of complicity.”

The FIDH and the French League for Human Rights filed complaints in France after the deals were reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2011, during the Arab Spring protest movements throughout the Middle East.

After the Journal’s revelations, Amesys acknowledged it had a deal to provide material to Libya.

Its Deep Packet Inspection technology allowed Kadhafi's government to secretly intercept Internet messages, and the FIDH says the company knew when the sales were made in 2007 and 2011 that the material would be used in its cybersurveillance programme that would target the opposition.

The company said the deal was made when France and the West were reaching out to Libya, after Kadhafi visited French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris in 2007.

The FIDH’s complaint was joined by at least six alleged victims of the spying, who were questioned by French judges from 2013 to 2015.

Judges opened an investigation in 2017 into Nexa, run by former Amesys managers, which is accused of selling an updated version of Amesys's software called "Cerebro", capable of real-time message or call tracing, to Sisi’s government.

The FIDH said judges were also investigating the sale of similar technologies to Saudi Arabia.

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