"We are facing the largest illegal intelligence scheme in the Republic of Paraguay, which in this particular case directly attacked the freedom of the press of the main media in the country," said prosecutor Irma Llano in dialogue with Infobae. "It was a mafia scheme," he said.
In what already seems like a Netflix series or a movie -for its political ties, espionage and corruption in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic- the team made up of Llano, also prosecutors Silvana Otazu and Juan Olmedo, with the support of attorney general Sandra Quiñonez, dismantled a network that spied on dozens of people.
"This is a complex investigation, but we are committed to reaching out to those ultimately responsible," Quiñonez told Infobae. “I am committed to the freedom of the press, the freedom of the people and the fight against corruption; and I made a commitment to investigate and demonstrate that no Paraguayan citizen can promote, encourage, organize or investigate, in parallel for illegal benefits, "he added.
It all started in late March when the prestigious journalist Clari Arias denounced that she had suffered "improper access" to her cell phone line and its messaging and social media applications. Two days later, another journalist, Jorge Torres, made the same accusation. And finally the independent deputy Carlos Rejala joined.
"They seemed isolated cases but as we advanced in the investigation we realized that the same group was spying on journalists and politicians so we asked ourselves what the victims had in common: they were all investigating or reporting acts of corruption and overbilling in the pharmaceutical sector, related to the purchase that the Paraguayan State had to make due to the health emergency ”Llano explained.
Consulted by Infobae, Deputy Rejala, one of the three victims of this network, is blunt: “Without a doubt, espionage has to do with my investigation into the corruption of COVID purchases. I denounced and the two journalists who were also spied on echoed these investigations. ” The politician of the independent group Hagamos assures that In addition to being a victim of espionage, he and his family are threatened. "I do not leave the house, this has to be a wake-up call for international organizations," he said.
In the course of the investigation, "which included repentants who collaborated with sensitive information", the prosecutors team identified two people responsible for the plot.
The first was Luis Bordón. This is a professional hacker who was tried for another espionage scandal known as the "M31", when in the midst of a political campaign in 2018, it leaked telephone conversations of politicians and businessmen linked to the then Government of Horacio Cartes. Bordón was on probation until Llano and his team arrested him days ago. Bordón, explains the prosecutor, would be the "professional" hired to spy.
The other person linked to the network was the one who supposedly hired the hacker, Fabián Martí. He is now accused of "improper access and criminal association and the production of non-authentic documents" it was until the escando broke out - and he was arrested - the President of the Electoral Tribunal of the largest opposition party in the country, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party of Paraguay, and is directly linked to its owner, Efraín Alegre.
As they discovered, the network managed to duplicate SIM cards of the two prestigious journalists and the parliamentarian. How they did it? First they identified the lines, then they made a “mini-load” in person, and they made the full identity of the victim. Once the identity theft was completed, they requested the reprint of the chip and once the new card was obtained, they placed it on an unlocked smartphone and, without the real owner of the line noticing, they accessed all the information in their chat applications, like Whatsapp.
The authorities explain that it was not a cloning system but directly supplanted the chips, with which they could access all the applications and the sensitive information that was stored there.
Bordón, at Martí's request, would have stolen all that data in record time. The victims realized what had just happened when they could not access their WhatsApp account, experienced problems accessing their phone lines or were unable to cover.
"This exposes the vulnerability of telephone companies, which must improve the protection of their clients because all Paraguayans are fully exposed," said the prosecutor. Llano also stresses the importance of international press organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the IACHR Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Unesco, and Reporters Without Borders, who collaborated with the Justice.
In the plot, the company Insumos Médicos SA (Imedic) appears in the public spotlight for the possible diversion of millions of dollars that the Paraguayan Congress authorized for the importation of surgical masks, protective suits, face and eye protectors, all for use by the medical staff. That same case that the three victims of espionage investigated and denounced.
Is that Justice raided the headquarters of businessman Justo Ferreira's Imedic yesterday after a recording of a security camera in which a man with characteristics similar to Martí appeared in his offices was known on social networks. In the operation, they seized the security footage to corroborate whether Martí was actually there on April 30 last. If their presence is confirmed, the link between espionage and the network of corruption under investigation would be proven. The expertise of the seized material will begin tomorrow.
Before the raid, Ferreira denied everything. In fact, he denounced before the Justice that through a supposedly false account on Twitter those images were spread but they are not authentic. “My identity was supplanted in the Twitter account @ justoferreira7. The user of this account created in April 2020 claims to be my person, even using a photograph of me, to publish a string of falsehoods whose clear purpose is the intervention of the Public Ministry in a story built on half-truths, "he alleges in his complaint. Ferreira.
The account, which was already disabled, functioned as a kind of "repentant" and took advantage while it was on-line to state the assumption modus operandis of fraudulent tenders.
The scheme that is being investigated and, in part already dismantled, splashes the main Paraguayan opposition party, which has the largest number of senators, deputies and mayors in the country, and exposes a direct attack on press freedom in Paraguay.
"In a rule of law this cannot be allowed and, from the Public Ministry of Paraguay, we are not going to allow it," promised Attorney General Quiñonez.