Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has denied allegations that he used an Israeli cybersecurity system to spy on Malaysian civilians and the opposition prior to the 14th General Election (GE14)
In a Facebook post today, 29 May, Najib accused two local media, Malaysiakini and Malaysia Dateline, of being biased in their reports for targeting him on the alleged purchase of a USD1.5 million (RM6.5 million) spy tech from an Israeli company called Senpai Technologies Limited.
However, he failed to mention that it was not the local media that accused the former premier of buying the spyware, but an Israeli technology news site called CTech that broke the news.
"Israeli Cyber Startup Senpai Helped Malaysia's Corrupt Leader Spy on Opposition," reads the headline of CTech's exclusive report published on Thursday, 28 May.
In the report, it repeatedly named Najib as the "controversial" figure behind the purchase in April 2018, claiming that it was the Najib administration's desperate attempt to gather information and analyse data on civilian activity a month before GE14.
According to Malaysiakini, CTech is a technology news site under Yedioth Ahronoth Group, which also publishes the nation's widest circulated newspaper.
CTech claimed Senpai Technologies' spyware was used by the Malaysian intelligence agency, Special Branch (SB), to surveil political activities of the opposition right before May 2018 elections
CTech reported that the arrangement between Najib's administration and Senpai was called 'Project Magnum'. It is also learned that Najib's administration had no plan to keep its spying activities with the company a secret as internal email evidence shows the Malaysian government wanted to use its spyware for "political investigations".
The report also contributed the return of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's run for the country's premiership in January 2018 to Najib's motivation in picking up the million dollar spyware as he feared that his GE14 defeat was looming.
The company uses its flagship product called 'RogueEye' for its spying operations. It is said to be able to collect individuals' information from openly available online sources, such as social networks. The data will then be cross-referenced and analysed to produce intelligence reports for secret services, police forces, militaries, and business entities.
Officially, 'RogueEye' claims to only extract data from publicly available sources, but correspondence evidence revealed that the system can also analyse data from phones infected by spyware.
Moreover, it is also capable of creating fake accounts to interact with real individuals to extract information without needing to hack.
A year after GE14, Senpai was said to be ready to sign a new contract with the Malaysian SB again
Calling it the 'phase two agreements', Senpai was trying to sell its services to:
- SB at around USD300,000 to USD400,000 (RM1.3 million to RM1.7 million)
- The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) at around USD2 million to USD2.5 million (RM8.7 million to RM10.8 million)
- The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the police at around USD800,000 to USD2.2 million (RM3.4 million to RM9.5 million) each
CTech's report did not name Dr Mahathir or the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government despite the fact that it was the PH administration running the country in 2019, before its collapse in February 2020.
Najib took a jab at the two aforementioned local media for not mentioning PH's attempt to purchase the spyware, also stressing that the total price is three times higher than the USD1.5 million price he allegedly paid.
He also defended himself against the claim by saying it was too late to buy the spyware a month before the GE14 when the Cabinet had dissolved and every representative was busy running campaigns.
He added that he was not the Home Minister at the time. The SB is under the ministry's purview.
The reason Senpai's secret dealings with the Malaysian government has been exposed is because the company is currently involved in a lawsuit
CTech noted that it is not common for government spy deals to be exposed, and it is even rarer to have written evidence over such arrangements.
If it were not for Senpai's co-founders being entangled in a financial dispute which led to the company's documents reaching Tel Aviv courts, the world would never have known of these highly-classified dealings between the Malaysian government and Senpai.
Since Malaysia has no diplomatic ties with Israel, Senpai set up a conduit company in Cyprus to receive the money in 2018.
The report noted that Malaysia is not the only country Senpai sells spyware to. They also provide services to Mexico, Aquador, Gabon, Angola, Kenya, Indonesia, and Singapore - with prices ranging between USD1.2 million to USD1.6 million (RM5.2 million to RM6.9 million).
Israel is known as a 'start-up nation' as it has seen a booming tech scene for many years. Popular GPS navigation app Waze was developed in Israel.
However, CTech noted that the country has also given birth to many cyber companies that sell "offensive" tech solutions, which give governments a lot of power against their citizens.
Prior to this, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba denied allegations that he has links to the companies being investigated by MACC: