Norway drops spying claims against foreign student, says he’s being held now for a ‘financial crime’

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norwegian authorities said Friday they have dropped spying allegations against an unidentified 25-year-old foreign student and are now holding him on suspicion of a “serious financial crime.”

The student, from Malaysia, was arrested in Norway on Sept. 8 for illegally eavesdropping by using various technical devices. A court ordered he be held in pre-trial custody for four weeks, on suspicion of espionage and intelligence operations against the NATO-member Nordic country.

The original allegations against him have now changed, with police saying Friday his use of signal technology was an effort to gain information for financial gain.

Marianne Bender, a prosecutor for the Norwegian police’s economic crime department, said the young man used devices for mobile phone surveillance, or IMSI-catchers, in an attempt to commit “gross frauds” in country’s capital, Oslo, and in the city of Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

The International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI, catchers pretend to be cell towers and intercept signals on phones to spy on calls and messages.

Bender said the case is “large and extensive, and probably involves organized crime with international ramifications.”

A prosecutor for Norway’s domestic security agency, Thomas Blom, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the suspect was a Malaysian national.

He reportedly was caught doing illegal signal surveillance in a rental car near the Norwegian prime minister’s office and the defense ministry. NRK said initial assumptions were that he worked on behalf of another foreign country.

When they arrested him, police also seized several data-carrying electronic devices in his possession.

The suspect is a student, but he’s not enrolled at an educational institution in Norway, and he’s been living in Norway for a relatively short time, authorities said.

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