United Nations experts on Wednesday called for an immediate investigation by the United States and others into information suggesting Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s phone was hacked after receiving a file sent from Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s WhatsApp account.
“The alleged hacking of Mr Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities,” UN special rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said in a statement in Geneva, Switzerland.
At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, “it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post”, the experts said in the statement. Bezos purchased The Washington Post in 2013.
The UN investigators said they had received information suggesting spyware “such as the NSO Group’s Pegasus-3 malware” was installed on Bezos’s phone via a WhatsApp message from an account “utilized personally by Mohammed bin Salman”.
NSO Group, an Israeli company that makes surveillance software, is implicated in a series of digital break-in attempts, including the gruesome killing of Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud dismissed the allegations on Wednesday, calling them “absurd” in an interview with Reuters news agency in Davos, Switzerland.
“The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’s phone is absolutely silly,” he added.
The UN experts reviewed a 2019 digital forensic analysis of Bezos’s iPhone, which they said was made available to them as UN special rapporteurs.
The experts said records showed within hours of receipt of a video from the crown prince’s WhatsApp account, there was “an anomalous and extreme change in phone behaviour” with enormous amounts of data from the phone being transmitted over the following months.
The Financial Times has seen the forensic report done by FTI Consulting, a private firm hired by Bezos. The newspaper said the forensic report “does not claim to have conclusive evidence,” and “could not ascertain what alleged spyware was used”.
The forensic report assessed with “medium to high confidence” that Bezos’s phone was infiltrated on May 1, 2018 via an MP4 video file sent from a WhatsApp account used personally by the Saudi crown prince.
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October that same year.
In an earlier incident, Bezos’s security chief said last year the Saudi government gained access to the Amazon CEO’s phone and leaked messages to US tabloid the National Enquirer between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor who the newspaper said he was dating.
A month before, Bezos accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez.
The Saudi government has denied having anything to do with the National Enquirer reporting.
Saudi Arabia’s US embassy also dismissed the allegations. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out,” it said in a message posted on Twitter.