(Reuters) - Iranian-American businessman Farhad Azima has accused a pair of Indian companies of stealing his emails and publishing them to the web, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in North Carolina.
Azima’s suit alleges that Indian security company CyberRoot Risk Advisory and New Delhi-based BellTroX InfoTech Services carried out the hack-and-leak at the behest of American private intelligence company Vital Management Services, which in turn had been hired by the international law firm Dechert on behalf of the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), an investment fund based in the United Arab Emirates.
Reuters reported in June that BellTroX was at the center of a years-long hacking campaign that targeted more than 10,000 accounts across the globe, citing three former employees, outside researchers and a trail of online evidence.
BellTroX founder Sumit Gupta could not be reached. Gupta, who is a fugitive from U.S. justice in connection with a separate hacking case, has previously told Reuters he would sometimes “download some mails” on behalf of private investigators but didn’t elaborate and has denied wrongdoing.
The Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, which took over RAKIA in 2017, didn’t return messages. Dechert’s global head of communications, Saira Zaki, and Vital’s president, Nicholas del Rosso, also did not respond to messages seeking comment. Dechert and del Rosso have previously denied wrongdoing in relation to the stolen Azima emails. CyberRoot and its executives did not respond to messages.
The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in a battle between Azima – a 79-year-old tycoon with longstanding ties to the Middle East – and RAKIA, which accuses him of fraud in relation to various business deals, including a luxury hotel sale in Georgia and a training academy in Ras Al Khaimah. Azima denies the claims, accusing RAKIA in a U.K. lawsuit of basing its case on emails that he says the authority stole and then leaked.
In May a British judge ruled in favor of RAKIA, ordering Azima to pay more than $4.1 million. The judge also rebuffed Azima’s claim of hacking, saying that while the allegation was “not impossible,” evidence for it was “far from conclusive.” Azima has since been granted permission to appeal the judgment.
Azima also took his case to Washington D.C., where he alleged that RAKIA had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The U.S. suit was dismissed last year on jurisdictional grounds.
Although the U.K. litigation has previously mentioned del Rosso, Azima’s new case – filed Thursday – is the first time he has publicly identified the hackers he says are directly involved, naming CyberRoot and BellTroX as the firms responsible for the digital break-in.
Azima alleges in the lawsuit that Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Vital and del Rosso “paid CyberRoot more than $1 million for the hacking of Azima and the dissemination of his stolen data” and that CyberRoot drew on BellTroX’s assistance in carrying out the work. The suit further states that del Rosso was “hired to do so” by Dechert “on behalf of RAKIA.”
Reporting by Raphael Satter; Additional reporting by Christopher Bing in Washington and Jack Stubbs in London; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Edward Tobin
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