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Israeli Firm Denies Claims It Sold Phone Hacking Equipment to Venezuelan Gov’t Amid US Sanctions

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Venezuela has been under US sanctions pressure since 2018, when Washington started to introduce tough restrictive measures against the South American nation in a bid to topple democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro.

The Israeli firm Cellebrite has rejected allegations that it sold its phone-hacking technology to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, which is currently under US sanctions that ban exports to the South American nation.

Washington started slapping harsh economic sanctions against the Venezuelan economy back in 2018 in an effort to oust democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro. The US also supported self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido, who also sought to unseat Maduro, thereby exacerbating the political crisis afflicting the country alongside the economic one.

“Cellebrite hasn't worked with defense or police clients in Venezuela for a number of years, and will not change its policy regarding the country as long as the current [Maduro] regime is holding on to power”, the news outlet Haaretz quoted the firm as saying in a statement earlier this week. The Venezuelan government has not commented on the issue yet.

A subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, Cellebrite produces mobile forensics software and hardware, including the so-called universal forensic extraction device (UFED), which helps investigators gain information from most handheld devices, even if it was deleted, encrypted, or uploaded to an IT Cloud.

The allegations pertain to human rights lawyer Eitay Mack’s previous call to the Defence Export Control Agency, part of Israel’s Defence Ministry charged with overseeing arms exports, according to Haaretz.

In a petition, Mack urged the agency to oversee Cellebrite’s activities due to the Maduro government’s alleged plans to purchase the UFED Touch 2 device made by the firm.

The lawyer also insisted that Cellebrite should be banned from exporting “directly or indirectly” UFED Touch 2 to Venezuela, amid reports that in 2019, Maduro approved the allocation of more than 12 million euros (14 million dollars) to modernise his country’s largest national police agency, responsible for criminal investigations and forensic services, also known as the CICPC.

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Haaretz asserted, without elaborating, that “Maduro's regime announced its plans to purchase the [UFED Touch 2] system last year, and has since repeated the claims in a number of official statements and publications”.

The news outlet also cited Cellebrite as denying claims that it had sold its hacking equipment in Hong Kong and Belarus, which have been in the grip of mass protests pertaining to China enforcing new legislation in the territory and President Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide victory in his country's presidential election, respectively.

“We do not sell our technology to countries on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) blacklist or subject to American sanctions, or those by the Israeli government or international community”, the company stressed.
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