Spain re-opens probe into Spanish PM’s phone being hacked with Pegasus spyware

A Spanish judge probing the alleged hacking of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s and other MP’s phones with Pegasus spyware has re-opened the investigation after getting documents from French judicial authorities, a court said on Tuesday.

The investigation was launched in 2022 after the Spanish government said the spyware made by Israeli firm NSO Group –  which infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners — had been used against top politicians. ALSO READ: Spanish court calls NSO Group’s CEO to testify in cell phone spying case.

Those allegedly targeted included Sánchez, Defence Minister Margarita Robles, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Agriculture Minister Luis PlanasALSO READ: Spanish PM and defence minister’s phones also targeted with spyware.

But a year later, Spain’s top criminal court said the judge probing the alleged hacking had provisionally closed the case due to ‘the complete lack of legal cooperation’ from the Israeli government, which had not replied to repeated requests for information about the NSO Group.

The judge has re-opened the investigation after receiving documents from French judicial authorities following a 2021 investigation into the alleged hacking of phones of journalists, lawyers, public figures, ministers and French MPs using Pegasus spyware.

‘Comparing the technical elements gathered in the French investigation’ with the one in Spain ‘may enable the investigation to progress … to trace the origin of the piracy,’ the Spanish court said.

The scandal emerged in April 2022 when Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab published a report saying the phones of at least 65 Catalan pro-independence figures had been tapped after a failed 2017 independence bid, and which became known as the ‘CatalanGate’ scandal. ALSO READ: ‘CatalanGate’: politicians, activists accuse Spain of ‘huge & illegal’ spying.

Several weeks later, Spanish spy chief Paz Esteban told a parliamentary committee 18 Catalan pro-independence figures had been spied on with Pegasus software – but always with court approval. She was later sacked. ALSO READ: Spain’s spy chief sacked, following phone hacking scandal.

The scandal grew when Madrid announced that Sánchez and some of his ministers had themselves been spied on in 2021.

Spain’s government has blamed it on ‘an external attack’ while the Spanish press has pointed the finger at Morocco given the context of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries at the time.

ALSO READ: Spain to reform official secrets law following spying scandal

Citizen Lab’s full report: CatalanGate: Extensive Mercenary Spyware Operation against Catalans Using Pegasus and Candiru.

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