A private detective who organized a hacking campaign against climate activists has been sentenced to over six years in federal prison — but the entire saga has left more questions than answers.
Aviram Azari, an Israeli police officer–turned–private investigator, was hired by German payment processor Wirecard to target critics of the company with phishing and identity theft scams. Wirecard has since filed for insolvency.
Azari also spied on climate activists, with stolen emails ending up in the hands of dirty energy giant ExxonMobil, prosecutors said. The prosecutors stopped short of saying that Exxon had hired Azari and his firm to target its critics. Exxon has denied having a relationship with Azari.
“From his home in Israel, Aviram Azari played a major role in orchestrating and facilitating an international hacking-for-hire spearphishing campaign. The conspiracy targeted individuals and companies in the U.S. and abroad, resulting in the theft of data and netting Azari over $4.8 million in criminal proceeds,” U.S. attorney Damian Williams said.
Azari pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, one count of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. He was sentenced to 80 months (six-and-two-thirds years) in U.S. federal prison and was also ordered to pay forfeiture of $4,844,968.
According to a Department of Justice press release, “Clients hired Azari to manage ‘Projects’ that were described as intelligence gathering efforts but were, in fact, hacking campaigns specifically targeting certain groups of victims, including climate change activists.” What is not specifically known, however, is who exactly those clients were, apart from Wirecard.
Three of Azari’s victims who spoke in court, including two climate activists, said they still want to know who had paid Azari to spy on them and steal their information.
“While it’s satisfying to see Azari sentenced for these crimes committed many years ago, we would still love to know who paid him to target me and my climate activist and lawyer colleagues,” Kert Davies, director of investigations at the Center for Climate Integrity, told Reuters.
If ExxonMobil did hire a private investigator to target its critics — which, to be clear, the company denies doing — it would certainly not be the first time that the company engaged in unethical, underhanded tactics to protect the profits of its planet-destroying business.
Exxon has spread misinformation to downplay the pollution that its product creates, attempted to cover up negative health impacts that it has caused, employs an army of lobbyists to undermine new legislation that would protect the environment, and has no plans of stopping any of this anytime soon.
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