Saudi denies report kingdom behind hacking of Jeff Bezos's phone

Dismissal comes after report says billionaire's phone was hacked after getting message apparently sent by MBS's account.

    Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the world's richest man [File: AP]
    Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the world's richest man [File: AP]

    The Saudi embassy in Washington, DC has dismissed a media report suggesting that the kingdom was behind the hacking of the mobile phone of the Washington Post owner and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.

    Citing unnamed sources, British daily The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the billionaire's phone was hacked in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that was apparently sent from the personal account of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).    

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    "Recent media reports that suggest the kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd," Saudi Arabia's embassy said on its Twitter account.    

    "We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."    

    Separately, the Washington Post reported that a United Nations investigation will report on Wednesday that Bezos's phone was hacked after he got the WhatsApp message from an account purportedly belonging to MBS, the kingdom's de facto ruler.

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    Soon after the message was sent, a significant amount of data was extracted from Bezos's phone, the Post said investigators concluded citing a person with direct knowledge with the matter.

    The report is set to worsen relations between the world's richest man and the kingdom which had soured following the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was also a columnist for The Washington Post, inside Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul.

    Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and David Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, said in Twitter posts on Tuesday that they would be releasing a statement on Wednesday addressing the report by The Guardian.

    A report by Callamard in June found credible evidence warranting further investigation that the crown prince and other senior officials are liable for Khashoggi's murder. Prince Mohammed has said that as de facto Saudi leader he ultimately bore "full responsibility" for the killing but he denied ordering it.

    In December, a Saudi court exonerated Prince Mohammed's top aides over the murder of the journalist, a verdict condemned globally as a travesty of justice but backed by Washington.

    Private investigation

    The relationship between Bezos and the Saudi government had soured early last year after he alluded to Saudi Arabia's displeasure at the Washington Post's coverage of the murder of Khashoggi.

    Bezos's security chief said in March last year that the kingdom had access to his phone and gained private information from it involving text messages between him and a former television anchor, who the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper said Bezos was dating.

    "Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone, and gained private information," Gavin De Becker wrote on The Daily Beast website at the time.

    But de Becker did not specify which part of the Saudi government he was blaming for the hack, and gave few details about the investigation that led him to the conclusion that the kingdom was responsible.

    Saudi Arabia had said it had nothing to do with the reporting.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies