Mercenary hackers stole data that Exxon later cited in climate lawsuits -US prosecutors By Reuters

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© Reuters.

By Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. prosecutors say an Israeli private investigator used hackers to steal emails from climate activists who were campaigning against American energy giant ExxonMobil (NYSE:) Corp.

In a sentencing memo filed on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, for the Southern District of New York, said Exxon’s lawyers cited media articles based on the stolen emails to parry investigations by U.S. state attorneys general.

Prosecutors stopped short of stating a connection between the Israeli private eye – former policeman Aviram Azari – and Exxon, and the memo did not identify any of his clients. Victims say that leaves a key question unanswered.

“While it’s satisfying to see Azari sentenced for these crimes committed many years ago, we would still love to know who paid him to target me and my climate activist and lawyer colleagues,” said Kert Davies, one of Azari’s victims and the director of investigations at the Center for Climate Integrity.

Exxon has previously denied having any connection to the Israeli or his hacking campaign.

The company, which has come under increased scrutiny following its just-announced $60 billion deal to buy competitor Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:), did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Exxon’s lawyers in the case, Paul Weiss, also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Seven years ago, attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts were probing Exxon for documents and other evidence showing the company had hidden its knowledge concerning the impact of fossil fuel usage on climate change. A cohort of environmental activists backed the investigations and helped organize a media campaign dubbed #ExxonKnew.

The Massachusetts investigation eventually turned into a lawsuit, which is ongoing.

Exxon pushed back, filing lawsuits that cited press articles, which suggested the activists were using underhanded tactics. Thursday’s filing is the first time that Azari’s hacking activities have been directly connected to those media leaks, which showcased private email exchanges and other non-public communications.

Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, another of Azari’s victims, said the only common thread between all the victims was “advocacy to hold ExxonMobil accountable for lying.”

Williams’ memo was filed ahead of next week’s expected sentencing of Azari, who pleaded guilty last year to hiring mercenary hackers to target his clients’ enemies.

Williams alleged that Azari, who has been in American custody since 2019, made an average of just under $1 million a year by hiring digital spies to carry out “a massive computer hacking campaign that targeted thousands of victims worldwide.”



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