Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

A view shows a sign on J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, D.C. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

  • Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges

WASHINGTON: An Israeli private investigator sought by the United States over hack-for-hire allegations previously told colleagues that he had been questioned by FBI agents over his work for the Washington public affairs firm DCI Group, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Federal law enforcement’s interest in DCI, which has not been previously reported, shows a years-long US probe into cybermercenary activity is wider than publicly known.

The FBI declined to comment. DCI, a public relations firm that has worked on behalf of hedge funds and multinationals, said in a written statement that “we direct all our employees and consultants to comply with the law.”

Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges.

Prosecutors in London said only that Forlit engaged in a “hack for hire scheme” on behalf of several clients, including an unidentified Washington-based PR and lobbying firm. He was released two days after his arrest following a procedural error by British authorities.
He was rearrested on Thursday on the same charges and has since been released on bail, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency and a London court register published Friday.

The register said Forlit surrendered his passport and was ordered not to leave the country. The 56-year-old’s lawyers did not return repeated messages.

In a deposition made public in 2022, Forlit said, “I’ve never commissioned hacking and never paid for hacking.” Reuters revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into the cybermercenary industry in 2020.

The only person known to have been convicted in connection with the inquiry, Israeli private investigator Aviram Azari, was given a 6 2/3 year sentence last year.

Forlit acknowledged in his deposition that Azari had done work on his behalf. Privately, he expressed concern that he was being sought by American law enforcement following Azari’s arrest, according to three associates. The associates said Forlit told them he arranged a meeting with FBI officials in the US embassy in London in late 2021 to gauge whether he would be arrested if he visited the United States.

It was at that meeting that the FBI quizzed him about his work for DCI, they said. The associates spoke on condition of anonymity to relay the content of private conversations.

Forlit is separately being sued in New York federal court by aviation executive Farhad Azima, who accuses the Israeli of being party to the theft of his emails in 2016. He denies the allegations.

A review of court records tied to Azima’s litigation shows that Forlit had business with DCI.

A Citibank document made public in August 2022 as part of Azima’s discovery effort in Florida shows Forlit’s company, then known as SDC-Gadot, listed DCI Group as one of its three “major customers.” Citibank declined to comment on the document.


Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

Updated 2 sec ago
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Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina
Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization

MOSCOW: The trial of a Russian American dual citizen whom Russia accuses of treason opened on Thursday as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow, including over the arrests of two American journalists.
The trial is being held behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg, in the same court that next week is to begin hearing the case of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in March 2023 and charged with espionage.
The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina, although U.S. media reports frequently use the surname Khavana, the name of her ex-husband.
Karelina was born in Yekaterinburg and was arrested in February while visiting her family.
Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization that was providing weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the Ukrainian military. Her boyfriend has said she made a single donation of about $50 to a Ukrainian organization, according to media reports.
Karelina faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Almost all Russian criminal cases that make it to court end in convictions. The trial was adjourned in the afternoon and the next session was set for Aug. 7, Russian news agencies said.
Gershkovich, the highest-profile American behind bars in Russia, is accused of gathering secret information from a tank factory in Nizhny Tagil, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yekaterinburg. His employers deny the allegation, and the U.S. State Department has declared him to be wrongfully detained.
Gershkovich's trial, also closed, is to begin next Wednesday.
A journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe with U.S. and Russian dual citizenship has been held since October on charges of gathering military information and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Since sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has sharply cracked down on dissent and has passed laws that criminalize criticism of the operation in Ukraine and remarks considered to discredit the Russian military. Concern has risen since then that Russia could be targeting U.S. nationals for arrest.

WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

Updated 9 min 8 sec ago
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WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

  • WHO has also noted increased demand for these medicines
  • Falsified products could be harmful

DUBAI: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday issued warnings on falsified semaglutides used in diabetes and weight-loss drugs in light of three altered batches of products detected in Brazil, the UK and the United States.
Semaglutide is the active ingredient used in Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and weight-loss treatment Wegovy.
The WHO has been observing increased reports of falsified semaglutide products in Brazil, the UK and the United States since 2022, it said, though Thursday’s was the first official notice issued by the agency after confirmation of some reports.
It has also noted increased demand for these medicines.
Falsified products could be harmful and if they do not have the necessary raw components, they can lead to health complications resulting from unmanaged blood glucose levels or weight, the WHO said.


Russian attack kills three, injures four in Ukraine’s eastern region

Updated 20 June 2024
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Russian attack kills three, injures four in Ukraine’s eastern region

  • The village of Rozkishne, about 25 km from the front line, was targeted by the strike

KYIV: Russia attacked a village in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Thursday, killing three people and injuring four more, including a child, prosecutors said.
The village of Rozkishne, about 25 km from the front line, was targeted by the strike, regional prosecutors said on Telegram.
According to preliminary data, Russian troops used the Smerch system to launch cluster munitions, prosecutors said.
Among the injured was a 14-year-old boy who was hospitalized. Four households, cars, and a gas pipeline were damaged in the attack, prosecutors added.


Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

Updated 20 June 2024
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Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

  • Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife
  • Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said

MADRID: A luxury cruise ship has rescued dozens of migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands in a fishing boat that had stalled in rough seas killing five people, Spanish authorities and the cruise operator said on Thursday.
The archipelago has become the main point of entry to Spain for illegal migrants from Africa in recent years, and the route is also the deadliest. Migration rights group Walking Borders said last week that nearly 5,000 migrants died at sea on that route in the first five months of 2024.
Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife on Wednesday and provided first assistance to the migrants, while the Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The Insignia, which is owned by Miami-based Oceania Cruises, also managed to recover three bodies from the boat, but bad weather prevented the recovery of another two bodies so the ship left a locating device to facilitate the search.
The small luxury cruise ship with a 670-passenger capacity is undertaking a 180— day trip around the world that started in January. It was expected to reach Tenerife at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Friday.
“Safety of life at sea is of paramount importance for all seafarers,” said a spokesperson for Oceania Cruises, which is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
“We can confirm that the Insignia rescued 68 people from a vessel in distress between Cape Verde and Tenerife, brought them onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing and a safe place to rest,” the spokesperson added.
A Spanish coast guard vessel was en route from the Canary Islands on Thursday to meet the Insignia and then locate the shipwreck.


Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

Updated 20 June 2024
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Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

  • People died after consuming alcohol tainted with methanol in Tamil Nadu, says chief minister
  • District official says number of those in critical condition keeps changing, death toll could rise

NEW DELHI: At least 34 people have died and dozens hospitalized after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, local media reported on Thursday.

The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The incident occurred in the state’s Kallakurichi district, where more than 100 people are being treated in various hospitals, top district official M S Prasanth said. He added that the number of those who are in critical condition keeps changing, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas were deployed to the district.

Government officials earlier said several people who were vomiting and had stomach pain were admitted to hospitals Wednesday, triggering a police investigation.

Later that day, Stalin, the chief minister, said in a post on social media platform X that those involved in the crime have been arrested, and action has also been taken against officials who failed to prevent it. “Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist,” he added.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. The illicit liquor, which is often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, has also become a hugely profitable industry as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.

In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization. Earlier that same year, at least 28 died from drinking altered liquor in Gujarat state. And in 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India’s northern Punjab state.