December 12, 2017 / 8:03 PM / a year ago

Italian magistrates look to drop Hacking Team probe, blame U.S.

MILAN (Reuters) - A Milan magistrate recommended on Tuesday shelving an investigation into six people who were suspected of orchestrating a massive data breach at the Italian cybersecurity firm Hacking Team.

Magistrate Alessandro Gobbis wrote in a document filed with Milan judges, and seen by Reuters, that the case should be shut down because U.S. authorities had hindered the probe by refusing to pass on potentially vital information.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Justice Department.

Magistrates opened the investigation in July 2015 after hackers downloaded 400 gigabytes of data from the firm, which makes software that allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to tap into the phones and computers of suspects.

Much of the data, including thousands of private corporate emails, were subsequently dumped onto the WikiLeaks website.

The company said at the time it believed former employees had stolen vital code that gave them access to its systems. It also speculated that a foreign government might have been behind the hacking.

In a 25-page document detailing its investigation, Gobbis said magistrates believed they had identified the main culprit, saying he lived in Nashville, Tennessee. However, it said U.S. authorities had refused to hand over the man’s computer.

Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote on Tuesday that U.S. police had executed an international search warrant and seized the man’s computer. However, the paper said the U.S. Justice Department informed Italy in July there was nothing of interest on the computer and declined to send it to Italy.

The leaked 2015 data showed that Hacking Team worked with numerous state institutions in an array of countries. Its customers included the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to internal documents published online.

It would be highly unusual for a judge not to accept the request of the prosecutors’ office to shelve an investigation.

Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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