Italian prosecutors want to drop their investigation into the 2015 breach of surveillance company Hacking Team, leaving a question mark over a dramatic release of material that exposed the global market for spy software and embarrassed intelligence figures around the world.
A redacted, three-page court document shared with The Associated Press by former Hacking Team worker Guido Landi shows that an Italian prosecutor has asked a judge in Milan to shelve the case.
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"I'm obviously happy," said Landi, who was one of several ex-Hacking Team employees who were the focus of the investigation. "Still baffled it took 2 years."
The judge could still order the prosecutors to reopen the case, but reversals are generally rare. If the move to drop the case should be upheld, it would be good news for Phineas Fisher, the mysterious hacker who claimed responsibility for the breach.
Fisher's exposure of hundreds of thousands of internal Hacking Team emails in July 2015 showed how governments were increasingly turning to mercenary hackers-for-hire to pry into the cellphones and computers of their domestic opponents. The exposure touched off espionage scandals as far afield as Cyprus and South Korea.
No reason was given for prosecutors' decision to drop the case but a report in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera said investigators hit a dead end after following a trail of digital currency transactions back to a man in Nashville, Tennessee.
The court document identified the man as Jon Davachi, who told AP he had nothing to do with the hack and said that he was trading in bitcoin to buy drugs online.
"I had a huge substance abuse issue," he said. "That's pretty much what I was fueling."
Davachi, who said he has been sober almost a year, confirmed that he was questioned by the FBI over the summer and had his electronics confiscated. He said his wife had received a letter in Italian while he was in treatment but he never read it.
He said his next step would be to contact the FBI "to see if I can get my computers and hard disks and flash drives and all that stuff back."
Italian prosecutors, the FBI and Hacking Team did not return messages seeking comment.
An email sent to an address previously used by Phineas Fisher was not returned.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville contributed to this report.
Court document (in Italian): https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4326762-Italian-Court-Document.html