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

Published 05/24/2024, 06:22 PM
Updated 05/24/2024, 08:35 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows a sign on J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 17, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows a sign on J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 17, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

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.

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