NEW YORK, Nov 16 (Reuters) – A U.S. court on Thursday sentenced an Israeli private detective to 6-2/3 years in prison for organizing global hacking campaigns against thousands of people including climate change activists and critics of German company Wirecard.
Aviram Azari, a former policeman detained in the United States since 2019, pleaded guilty last year to three counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit hacking and aggravated identity theft.
U.S. District Judge John Koeltl handed down the sentence at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.
Prosecutors had asked that Azari, 51, get eight to nine years in prison, saying that his firm earned nearly $5 million dollars over five years for managing hacking campaigns that targeted thousands of victims – many of whom were public interest groups.
“Azari pocketed millions of dollars for his oversight of the hacking groups, and he passed along the fruits of their hacking to his clients,” the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan said in court papers. “He exhibited zero regard for the harm inflicted on his victims.”
His defense lawyer, Barry Zone, asked for a sentence of no more than five years, arguing that Azari had accepted responsibility and contracted a “debilitating medical condition” while jailed in New York.
Prosecutors said now-defunct payment processor Wirecard, which was a member of Germany’s blue chip DAX index before filing for insolvency in 2020, hired Azari to target individuals and financial firms that had criticized the company.
According to prosecutors, Azari also used hackers to steal emails from climate activists who were campaigning against U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), which then cited media articles based on those messages to fend off probes by U.S. state attorneys general.
Prosecutors did not allege any link between Azari and Exxon, which denied any connection to Azari or his hacking campaign.
Azari was the subject of an investigation last year by Reuters that revealed how he and other private eyes used mercenary hackers in India to help wealthy clients gain an advantage in court battles.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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