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A man suspected of using computer hacking techniques to steal corporate secrets from a French defence contractor was arrested in Greece last Friday. Police are continuing to hunt for a suspected accomplice reckoned to be living in the UK.

The as-yet-unnamed 58-year-old mathematician was wanted for questioning for the theft of data from France's Dassault Group, a major aviation supplier with ties to the defence industry. The man is suspected of purloining sensitive data and selling it to an estimated 250 buyers over the net located in Brazil, as well as countries in Asia, western Europe and the Balkans. Among the data sold was specialist software used for making planes and automobiles.

The suspected perp, a Greek national, has reportedly been wanted for questioning for almost five years.

"This 58-year-old mathematician was wanted since 2002 after Dassault contacted Greek authorities," a police official told Reuters.

"He is responsible for causing damages in excess of $361m to the company and he has sold this corporate data, including information on weapons systems, to about 250 buyers through the internet."

Police reckon the suspect cracked the security of Dassault Group's network in order to steal the data. After five years on the lam, the suspect was thought to have been tracked down to an apartment in central Athens that the man was allegedly renting under a false name.

"He is one of the world's best hackers, using the nickname ASTRA, but we are also looking for an accomplice in the UK who helped him locate buyers online," the police official said.

Details on the arrest remain sketchy and form the basis of seemingly conflicting reports. AP, for instance, reports that the mathematician had been arrested on two previous occasions on similar charges, but both cases are yet to come to court. ®

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