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Fugitive CEO tracked down to Sri Lanka after Skype call

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A hi-tech chief executive turned fugitive has been tracked down in Sri Lanka by a private investigator after 10 days on the lam.

Jacob "Kobi" Alexander, 54, faces fraud charges over a stock options scandal involving the voicemail software firm he founded, Comverse.

According to Israeli reports, Alexander was tracked down after a one-minute call made using the Skype IP Telephony service betrayed his presence in Sri Lanka to intelligence agencies. Following the call, made in the nation's capital Columbo, a gum-shoe tracked him down to a villa in the town of Negombo.

As previously reported, Alexander (who holds dual American-Israeli citizenship) became the target of a worldwide manhunt after he failed to answer securities fraud charges. Two of his former colleagues - former Comverse CFO David Kreinberg and former general counsel William F Sorin - were released on bail after being charged with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud offences earlier this month.

All three resigned from Comverse in May over allegations of multi-million dollar stock options fraud in the midst of an internal probe. Federal investigators accuse them of profiting at the expense of Comverse stockholders by backdating options as well as making misleading public financial statements between 1998 and 2002.

Initially it was thought Alexander may have fled to Israel, a country where he allegedly recently transferred $57m. But hi-tech detective work led to his arrest in Sri Lanka, from where US authorities will presumably seeks Alexander's extradition.

Skype offers confidentiality but not anonymity, as Alexander might testify. Quiet how he was tracked down remains unclear.

Ars technica points to an interesting paper on tracking anonymous peer-to-peer VoIP traffic (here).

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) gives federal investigators the authority to request warrants to tap landline and cell phone calls, a power investigators wish to extend to cover VoIP calls, over the objections of security experts.

But perhaps Alexander was traced not by call tapping but by monitoring the phone numbers of a call he made to an associate. It's known that a user's IP is logged and tracked when they log into a Skype server. So federal investigators may have traced Alexander after his identity was verified for billing purposes in a call to a landline or mobile that was the subject of a monitoring order.

In that possible scenario, which must remain speculative, Skype would have been served with an order to turn over its logs, an action that raises wider privacy issues before we even consider how Alexander's probable location came to be turned over to a private investigator. ®

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