Switzerland confirms spying during Iran nuclear talks

Swiss prosecutors say they found evidence of spying on Iran nuclear talks, but close the probe.

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Elad Benari,

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Flash 90

A large number of computers at a Geneva hotel that hosted Iranian nuclear talks last year were infected with malware used for espionage, Swiss prosecutors said Thursday, according to the AFP news agency.

The Swiss Attorney General's office (OAG), however, said it had closed its investigation, since it had failed to determine who was behind the spying.

Swiss investigators launched a probe in May last year based on what was described as "suspicion of illegal intelligence services operating in Switzerland," searching a hotel that hosted the nuclear talks and seizing computer equipment.

Those talks, which were held at a range of luxury hotels in Switzerland and Austria, concluded on July 14, 2015 with the deal to rein in Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The agreement between Tehran, Washington and five other major powers came into force in January.

"Investigations revealed that a significant number of computers (servers and clients) at a hotel in Geneva had been infected with a form of malware," the OAG said in a statement Thursday, without divulging the name of the hotel.

"This malware was developed for the purposes of espionage, and is basically used to gather data from the computers infected," it said, while adding investigators had however turned up "no evidence as to the identity of the perpetrators."

"Accordingly, although there is evidence of criminal activity, it cannot be attributed to specific persons," OAG said, explaining why it had decided to close the case.

Israel, which was vehemently opposed to the nuclear deal, was accused of being responsible of spying on the talks, after The Wall Street Journal reported that it attempted to use a sophisticated virus to spy on nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 by hacking into the servers of hotels where talks were being held.

At the time, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab ZAO said it found the hotels on a list of European servers hacked by the virus, identified as a version of Duqu, while scanning its own systems after finding it had been hacked.

Israel vehemently denied the report, with Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan calling the allegations “utter nonsense. Israel does not use such methods, and we already have sufficient methods to find out what is going on in the talks” without having to resort to hacking.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also denied that Israel spied on the talks.

“There is no basis for the reports on Israel's involvement in this. It is much more important to us to prevent a bad agreement from being signed. Otherwise we will find ourselves under an Iranian 'nuclear umbrella,'” she said.