Freelance journalist Scott Stedman told a New York court that imprisoned private detective Aviram Azari was working ‘on surveillance and cyber-intelligence operations at the behest of Russian oligarchs’, citing a mix of public reporting and sources confidential.
Stedman said in a statement that one of the Russian oligarchs involved was aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who he said indirectly employed Azari in connection with a business dispute in Austria.
Deripaska’s spokeswoman said in an email that the allegations were “demonstrably false.” A lawyer for Azari, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft in a separate case, did not return a message.
Stedman made his statement in support of his request to subpoena Azari for evidence in a UK libel suit brought against him by British-Israeli security consultant Walter Soriano in 2020.
In a series of articles for his publication, Forensic News, Stedman claimed, among other things, that Soriano was a middleman between wealthy Russians and surveillance companies.
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Soriano denied the allegations and sued the articles, accusing Stedman of mounting a campaign of defamation, invasion of privacy and harassment.
Stedman’s attorney told the New York court that “several confidential sources” told the reporter that Azari “had worked closely with Soriano for years” and that the jailed private detective’s testimony and documents could therefore “corroborate the veracity of Forensic News reporting”.
In an email to Reuters, Soriano’s lawyer, Shlomo Rechtschaffen, said Stedman’s claims were “false and baseless” and that the journalist “has no evidence” that his client and Azari worked together. as alleged.
In a statement to Reuters, Stedman said he had “very good reason to believe that Mr. Azari was working with Mr. Soriano on cybersecurity-related projects for several Russian oligarchs and other billionaires” and that he was subpoenaing Azari. as part of an effort “to defend my journalism and my business.”
Azari is currently being held in federal prison in Brooklyn awaiting sentencing for a hacking campaign linked to defunct German fintech company Wirecard AG, his lawyer said last month.
Reuters reported last year that Azari was accused of hiring Indian hacking firm BellTroX on behalf of powerful clients. BellTroX, which has also been accused of hacking by cybersecurity researchers at Facebook and elsewhere, could not be reached for comment.