A senior executive of a French spyware company was prosecuted for selling surveillance software to the authoritarian regimes in Libya and Egypt, which led to the torture and disappearance of dissidents.
Although high-tech surveillance is a global multi-billion dollar industry, companies or individuals rarely face legal consequences for selling such technologies-even to notorious dictatorships or other dangerous regimes. But the Paris Judicial Court filed charges against the leader of Amesys, a surveillance company later renamed Nexa Technology, claiming that sales to Libya and Egypt over the past ten years led to opposition suppression, torture of dissidents and other human rights abuse.
Philippe Vannier, the former head of Amesys, and three current and former executives of Nexa Technology have been accused of “participating in torture” for selling espionage technology to the Libyan regime.French media report Nexa President Olivier Bohbot, Managing Director Renaud Roques and former President Stéphane Salies face the same charges for selling surveillance equipment to Egypt.
These charges were brought by the Court’s Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Unit, but the case began 10 years ago when Amesys sold its system for intercepting Internet traffic to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi . Six victims of espionage testified in France that they were arrested and tortured by the regime. They said that this experience was a direct result of these espionage tools. In 2014, shortly after Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi launched a military coup to take control of the country, the company sold him surveillance software.
The complaint filed by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Federation of Human Rights stated that the company did not obtain government permission to sell its technology to Libya or Egypt because of weak supervision and sometimes non-existent. These claims have led to the ongoing independent judicial investigation of Amesys/Nexa. Next, if there is insufficient evidence, the judge will decide whether to send the case to a criminal court or dismiss it-but the indictment is an important step forward and shows that the judge may think that the evidence may be sufficient to support a criminal trial.