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Israel’s Cognyte won tender to sell intercept spyware to Myanmar before coup

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Israel's Cognyte won tender to sell intercept spyware to Myanmar before coup
GLOBALTIMESPAKISTAN

Israel’s Cognyte Software Ltd (CGNT.O) won a tender to sell intercept spyware to a Myanmar state-backed telecommunications firm a month before the Asian nation’s February 2021 military coup, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The deal was made even though Israel has claimed it stopped defence technology transfers to Myanmar following a 2017 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court, according to a legal complaint recently filed with Israel’s attorney general and disclosed on Sunday.

While the ruling was subjected to a rare gag order at the request of the state and the media cannot cite the verdict, Israel’s government has publicly stated on numerous occasions that defence exports to Myanmar are banned.

The complaint, led by high-profile Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack who spearheaded the campaign for the Supreme Court ruling, calls for a criminal investigation into the deal. It accuses Cognyte and unnamed defence and foreign ministry officials who supervise such deals of “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Myanmar.”

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The complaint was filed on behalf of more than 60 Israelis, including a former speaker of the house as well as prominent activists, academics and writers.

The documents about the deal, provided to Reuters and Mack by activist group Justice for Myanmar, are a January 2021 letter with attachments from Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) to local regulators that list Cognyte as the winning vendor for intercept technology and note the purchase order was issued “by 30th Dec 2020”.

Intercept spyware can give authorities the power to listen in on calls, view text messages and web traffic including emails, and track the locations of users without the assistance of telecom and internet firms.

Representatives for Cognyte, Myanmar’s military government and MPT did not respond to multiple Reuters requests for comment. Japan’s KDDI Corp (9433.T) and Sumitomo Corp (8053.T), which have stakes in MPT, declined to comment, saying they were not privy to details on communication interception.

Israel’s attorney general did not respond to requests for comment about the complaint. The foreign affairs ministry did not respond to requests for comment about the deal, while the defence ministry declined to comment.

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Two people with knowledge of Myanmar’s intercept plans separately told Reuters the Cognyte system was tested by MPT. They declined to be identified for fear of retribution by Myanmar’s junta.

MPT uses intercept spyware, a source with direct knowledge of the matter and three people briefed on the issue told Reuters although they did not identify the vendor. Reuters was unable to determine whether the sale of Cognyte intercept technology to MPT was finalised.

Even before the coup, public concern had mounted in Israel about the country’s defence exports to Myanmar after a brutal 2017 crackdown by the military on the country’s Rohingya population while Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was in power. The crackdown prompted the petition led by Mack that asked the Supreme Court to ban arms exports to Myanmar.

Since the coup, the junta has killed thousands of people including many political opponents, according to the United Nations.

COGNYTE UNDER FIRE

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Many governments around the world allow for what are commonly called ‘lawful intercepts’ to be used by law enforcement agencies to catch criminals but the technology is not ordinarily employed without any kind of legal process, cybersecurity experts have said.

According to industry executives and activists previously interviewed by Reuters, Myanmar’s junta is using invasive telecoms spyware without legal safeguards to protect human rights.

Mack said Cognyte’s participation in the tender contradicts statements made by Israeli officials after the Supreme court ruled that no security exports had been made to Myanmar.

While intercept spyware is typically described as “dual-use” technology for civilian and defence purposes, Israeli law states that “dual-use” technology is classified as defence equipment.

Israeli law also requires companies exporting defence-related products to seek licenses for export and marketing when doing deals. The legal complaint said any officials who granted Cognyte licenses for Myanmar deals should be investigated. Reuters was unable to determine whether Cognyte obtained such licenses.

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Around the time of the 2020 deal, the political situation in Myanmar was tense with the military disputing the results of an election won by Suu Kyi.

Norway’s Telenor (TEL.OL), previously one of the biggest telecoms firms in Myanmar before withdrawing from the country last year, also said in a Dec. 3, 2020 briefing and statement that it was concerned about Myanmar authorities’ plans for a lawful intercept due to insufficient legal safeguards.

Nasdaq-listed Cognyte was spun off in February 2021 from Verint Systems Inc (VRNT.O), a pioneering giant in Israel’s cybersecurity industry.
Cognyte, which had $474 million in annual revenue for its last financial year, was also banned from Facebook in 2021. Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (META.O) said in a report Cognyte “enables managing fake accounts across social media platforms”.

Meta said its investigation identified Cognyte customers in a range of countries such as Kenya, Mexico and Indonesia and their targets included journalists and politicians. It did not identify the customers or the targets.

Meta did not respond to a request for further comment.

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Last month, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund dropped Cognyte from its portfolio, saying states said to be customers of its surveillance products and services “have been accused of extremely serious human rights violations”. The fund did not name any states.

Cognyte has not responded publicly to the claims made by Meta or Norway’s sovereign wealth fund.

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Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets

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Tesla's Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 'funding secured' tweets

A U.S. jury on Friday found Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk and his company were not liable for misleading investors when Musk tweeted in 2018 that he had “funding secured” to take the electric car company private.

Plaintiffs had claimed billions in damages and the decision also had been seen as important for Musk himself, who often takes to Twitter to air his views.

The jury came back with a unanimous verdict roughly two hours after beginning deliberations.

Musk was not present in court when the verdict was read but soon tweeted that he was “deeply appreciative” of the jury’s decision.

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“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed,” he said.

Nicholas Porritt, a lawyer for the investors, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the verdict and are considering next steps.”

Shares of Tesla rose 1.6% in after-hours trading following the verdict.

“A dark chapter is now closed for Musk and Tesla,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said. Ives added that some Tesla investors feared Musk might have to sell more Tesla stock if he lost.

The world’s second-richest person has previously created legal and regulatory headaches through his sometimes impulsive use of Twitter, the social media company he bought for $44 billion in October.

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Minor Myers, who teaches corporate law at the University of Connecticut and who had previously called the investors’ case strong, called the outcome “astounding.”

The U.S. anti-securities fraud law “has always been thought to be this great bulwark against misstatements and falsehoods,” he said. “This outcome makes you wonder if it is up to the job in modern markets,” he said, adding that Musk himself was likely to “double down” on his communication tactics after the verdict.

Musk’s attention has been divided in recent months between Tesla, his rocket company SpaceX and now Twitter. Tesla investors have expressed concerns that running the social media company has taken up too much of his focus.Tesla shareholders claimed Musk misled them when he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018, that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share, a premium of about 23% to the prior day’s close, and had “funding secured.”

They say Musk lied when he tweeted later that day that “investor support is confirmed.”

The stock price soared after the tweets and then fell again after Aug. 17, 2018, as it became clear the buyout would not happen.
Porritt during closing arguments said the billionaire CEO is not above the law, and should be held liable for the tweets.

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“This case ultimately is about whether rules that apply to everyone else should also apply to Elon Musk,” he said.

Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro countered that Musk’s “funding secured” tweet was “technically inaccurate” but that investors only cared that Musk was considering a buyout.

“The whole case is built on bad word choice,” he said. “Who cares about bad word choice?”

“Just because it’s a bad tweet doesn’t make it fraud,” Spiro said during closing arguments.

An economist hired by the shareholders had calculated investor losses as high as $12 billion.

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During the three-week trial, Musk spent nearly nine hours on the witness stand, telling jurors he believed the tweets were truthful.

He said he had lined up the necessary financing, including a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. The fund later backpedaled on its commitment, Musk said.

Musk later testified that he believed he could have sold enough shares of his rocket company SpaceX to fund a buyout, and “felt funding was secured” with SpaceX stock alone.

Musk testified that he made the tweets in order to put small shareholders on the same footing as large investors who knew about the deal. But he acknowledged he lacked formal commitments from the Saudi fund and other potential backers.

The verdict is another victory for Musk and his lawyer Spiro after they won a defamation lawsuit against the billionaire in 2019 over his tweet calling a cave explorer a “pedo guy”.

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Indian watchdog tells investors markets stable despite Adani rout

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Indian watchdog tells investors markets stable despite Adani rout

 India’s market regulator moved to calm investor concerns on Saturday, saying that its financial markets remain stable and continue to function in a transparent and efficient manner, despite recent dramatic stock falls in Adani Group companies.

Shares in Adani Group firms, controlled by billionaire tycoon Gautam Adani, have dropped by $100 billion, or half their market value, since U.S-based short-seller Hindenburg Research made allegations of stock manipulation and unsustainable debt.

“During the past week, unusual price movement in the stocks of a business conglomerate has been observed,” the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) said in a statement, without naming any specific entity.

The Adani Group denies all Hindenburg’s allegations, but the fall in the value of its stocks led it to call off earlier this week a $2.5 billion share sale by Adani Enterprises (ADEL.NS).

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Mechanisms were in place to address excessive volatility in specific stocks, SEBI said, adding these were automatically triggered under certain conditions of stock price volatility.

Any matters related to specific entities will be examined and appropriate action will be taken, the regulator added.
Reuters earlier reported that SEBI was examining the recent crash in the Adani Group’s shares and looking into any possible irregularities.

The comments follow a similar assurance from the central bank which said that the banking sector remained stable.

Shares of the group’s flagship company stabilised somewhat on Friday and closed 1.4% higher, after earlier slumping 35% to hit their lowest level since March 2021. That low took its losses to nearly $33.6 billion since last week, a 70% fall.

Earlier on Saturday, India’s Finance Secretary TV Somanathan said that from a macroeconomic perspective, the Adani issue is a “storm in a teacup”, while Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said regulators are independent and will take their own action.

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Meanwhile, Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group, another of India’s biggest conglomerates tweeted on Saturday that investors should “never, ever bet against India” despite “current challenges in the business sector”.

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Billionaire Musk likely to ‘double down’ on tweets after court victory

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Billionaire Musk likely to 'double down' on tweets after court victory

 Elon Musk may become even more emboldened in his Twitter use after a jury cleared the billionaire Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) chief executive over his missive that he had “funding secured” to take his electric car company private.

A San Francisco jury took just two hours to unanimously find the world’s second-richest person not liable for having allegedly tweeted fraudulently in August 2018 about a possible Tesla buyout.

Musk is likely to “double down” on his communication tactics after the verdict, said Minor Myers, a professor of corporate law at the University of Connecticut.

“This is only going to embolden him to act as he sees fit,” Myers said.

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Musk ultimately abandoned his effort to take Tesla private, but told jurors early in the three-week trial that he had believed what he wrote in tweets.
Karen Woody, an associate professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said she thought the case was “rock-solid” against Musk and she was shocked at the verdict.

“He pushed the boundaries, and won,” she said. “I expect Elon is going to write anything he wants,”

Musk himself thanked the jury on Twitter — which he bought in October for $44 billion.

“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed,” he wrote.

The Tesla shareholders who sued Musk had sought billions of dollars in damages.

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Musk’s raw tweeting style has made him a hero for many, and burnished the Tesla brand.

He fought hard against accusations that he had not told the truth, with his lawyer, Alex Spiro, telling the jury that the “funding secured” tweet was only technically inaccurate.

“Who cares about bad word choice?” Spiro said during closing arguments.

The tweets led to Musk and Tesla paying $40 million to resolve U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges under a consent agreement that Musk has fought unsuccessfully to lift.

“He doesn’t want to play by SEC rules as the SEC understands them, and the SEC doesn’t want to be perceived as backing down,” said Adam Pritchard, a University of Michigan law professor. “I expect them to continue having their difficulties.”

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Still, many analysts said Musk, who has tweeted more than 22,000 times and has about 128 million Twitter followers, has no reason to slow down now.

“Many people, when confronted by a lawsuit of this type would have dialed back tweeting,” said Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners. “But that wasn’t the case in the Twitter deal, was it?

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