RIGA (Reuters) - Latvia’s police confirmed on Thursday they had unmasked the man who became a folk hero for hacking tax office data to reveal fat salaries still being paid to state officials despite an official austerity drive.
The police said in a statement that a man detained on Wednesday was the hacker known as “Neo” and named him as Ilmars P. Latvian media have identified the man as Ilmars Poikans, a researcher in artificial intelligence at the University of Latvia’s Computer Science department.
The statement said a criminal process had been launched against the man, but that he had been freed from detention.
“The person fully admits his guilt for the crime with which he has been incriminated thus helping the investigation,” the police statement said.
Poikans’ lawyer Aleksejs Loskutovs rejected the admission of guilt.
“He told them everything that he did but that does not mean that he admitted his guilt,” Loskutovs, the former head of the state anti-corruption bureau, told public radio.
“Neo” became famous earlier this year for publishing the tax office data of highly paid state officials, some of whom continued to receive salaries that went into thousands of lats or who got bonuses even as the government was cutting old age pensions, raising taxes and reducing spending.
Latvia had to take the austerity measures to meet the terms of a 7.5 billion euro ($9.5 billion) bailout led by the International Monetary Fund and European Union.
Neo, who mainly communicated via the popular microblogging site Twitter, said he was trying to reveal the hyprocrisy of people in high places.
A police raid on the house of a well known television journalist Tuesday, which led to the detention of the hacker, caused protests from journalists. The country’s ombudsman said he would examine whether freedom of speech regulations had been breached.
Reporting by Aija Braslina, writing by Patrick Lannin; editing Reed Stevenson