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Friday, May 29, 2020

Report: Israeli cyber startup Senpai helped Najib spy on opposition in 2018


Court documents in Israel have revealed that cyber startup company Senpai Technologies signed a US$1.5 million deal to supply Malaysia’s Special Branch with surveillance tools that were used to help former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak maintain surveillance on his political opposition in the run-up to the 14th general election.
According to a report by Isreal's technology news site "CTech", the Malaysian government signed a deal to acquire a system that allowed it to gather information and analyse data on civilian activity.
The system was meant to be used by the Malaysian intelligence agency the Special Branch (SB) to surveil opposition political activists, according to court documents obtained and reviewed by Calcalist, Israel's leading financial daily.
The company that developed and supplied the system was Senpai Technologies Ltd, a small Israeli cybersecurity startup which signed the deal in April 2018, just a month before Najib led BN to its first-ever defeat
The deal, which carried a price tag of US$1.5 million, was carried out under the code name “Project Magnum.”
As Israel and Malaysia have no official diplomatic ties, the deal was signed through a Cypriot conduit company called Kohai Corp Ltd which was founded by two of Senpai's shareholders allegedly for the sole purpose of serving as a front for such deals.
According to the documents, Najib's BN government’s plans for Senpai’s system were not kept secret from the company and its use for “political investigations״ is specifically mentioned in internal e-mail correspondence.
Senpai, which was founded in 2015, has since frozen activities amidst bankruptcy filings and lawsuits between its founding members.
Notably, as recently as the middle of last year, the company was discussing the possibility of a new contract with the Malaysian Special Branch, which had new implications in the aftermath of Najib's historic defeat.
The indication is that the objective of surveillance changed after the elections from political investigations to more criminal-terror investigations.
“The client got the documents and we are waiting for his response,” Senpai co-founder and head of sales Roy Shloman said referring to “Magnum” in an e-mail sent to fellow co-founders Guy David, Omri Raiter, and Eric Banoun on June 10, 2019.
“As you know, after the elections many things changed and became a bit more complicated,” Shloman wrote. “As for the client’s management process and based on some of the past conference calls with them, I think that we shall plan a visit to KL ” he added.
"The main purpose of such a trip is to meet the client (face-to-face), conduct some Q&A sessions and provide them with some tips and tricks on how to maximise the system,” Shloman said.
CTech is a technology news site run by Calcalist, itself is part of the Yedioth Ahronoth Group, which also publishes Yedioth Ahronoth, the country's most widely-circulated newspaper.
Malaysiakini has reached out to Najib for his comments. - Mkini

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