German firm investigated for spyware


German prosecutors are investigating a Bavarian company named in a media investigation as supplying software to Turkey for spying via phones.

The Munich prosecutors are looking at directors and employees of FinFisher and two other companiesafter receiving a report in July.

“We are investigating possible violations of export law,” they said in a statement to Reuters, without giving more detail.

A media alliance, comprising broadcasters and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, reported FinFisher software, named Finspy, was believed to have been deployed on phones of activists in a 2017 protest against mass arrests by President Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

It allowed authorities to access address books and photo and video stores on the phones, the media consortium said.

There was no immediate reply to requests for comment from FinFisher by email and telephone. Nor was there comment from the German government or Turkey.

In 2018, when the allegations first surfaced, the German Economy Ministry said it had not issued a licence to export the software. Prosecutors added they opened a preliminary investigation that May in response to media reports.

Ties between NATO members Germany and Turkey are fraught. German authorities are concerned at Ankara’s influence over three million people of Turkish background in the country, even as Berlin relies on Turkey to help prevent more refugee waves.

The German media outlets said they saw a deposition from activist groups, including Reporters without Borders and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, containing an analysis of the software’s source code suggesting it was provided by the German company.

The deposition named five directors and unspecified employees, they reported.

In a statement, the NGO groups said they filed criminal complaints against company officials for exporting software without a licence. They said the spyware was planted on a “fake version” of a Turkish opposition website.

“It is outrageous and unacceptable to see German spyware used against journalists and opposition voices in Turkey,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporters Without Borders Germany.