Judge probes Spain ex-spy chief over Catalan phone hacking

Judge probes Spain ex-spy chief over Catalan phone hacking
Judge probes Spain ex-spy chief over Catalan phone hacking

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Aragones filed his complaint in July 2022, three months after Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said more than 60 mobiles linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped with Pegasus after the failed Catalan independence bid in 2017. — Reuters pic

BARCELONA, Oct 16 — A judge has opened a formal investigation into Spain’s former spy chief over the alleged hacking of a Catalan leader’s mobile phone with Pegasus spyware, a court statement said today.

Paz Esteban, who was sacked last year as head of Spain’s CNI intelligence agency, has been summoned to appear on December 13 before the Barcelona magistrate investigating the affair, the statement said.

She was sacked in May 2022 after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez admitted that the CNI had hacked the mobile phones of 18 Catalan separatist leaders, although he said this had been authorised by the courts as required by law.

The complaint centres on the alleged hacking of the mobile phone of Catalan regional leader Pere Aragones, who said his phone had been tapped in January 2020 when he was serving as the region’s economy minister and vice president.

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In admitting the complaint, the magistrate agreed to open an investigation “given the characteristics that raise the possibility of criminal offences, including the illegal interception of communications and electronic espionage”.

Accordingly, the magistrate has summoned Paz to testify as an “accused party under investigation”, along with Aragones, who will appear as the “injured plaintiff”. Both will appear on the same day.

“The complaint being admitted.. is an important step towards clarifying the whole truth,” Aragones wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

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“We want to know who ordered the spying on the independence movement. The violation of fundamental and political rights must not go unpunished.”

Created by Israeli firm NSO Group and sold to governments around the world, Pegasus software can be used to access a phone’s messages and emails, peruse photos, eavesdrop on calls, track locations and even film the owner with the camera.

The magistrate has asked the CNI for information about its acquisition of Pegasus and its authorisation to use the software, and has also asked NSO for data on how it was marketed to Spanish government bodies.

Aragones filed his complaint in July 2022, three months after Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said more than 60 mobiles linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped with Pegasus after the failed Catalan independence bid in 2017.

Although Spain admitted its intelligence services had spied on the phones of 18 separatist leaders—with court approval—it said the “vast majority” of numbers identified by Citizen Lab were hacked by “unknown actors”.

The spyware was also used to hack the phones of Sanchez, Defence Minister Margarita Robles, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Agriculture Minister Luis Planas, the government admitted last year. — AFP

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