France’s Macron among potential Pegasus spyware targets: Report

Phone number of French president was identified as potential target for surveillance on behalf of Morocco, report says.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron uses his mobile phone as he arrives at a dinner attended by French President Francois Hollande and Saudi Arabia's Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 01 September 2014.
Macron's phone number was among about 50,000 believed to have been identified as people of interest since 2016 by clients of the Israeli firm NSO, a report says [File: Philippe Wojazer/EPA] (Reuters)

The phone of French President Emmanuel Macron was targeted for potential surveillance on behalf of Morocco in the Pegasus spyware case, French newspaper Le Monde reported on Tuesday.

The French presidency said that if the revelations about Macron’s phone were true, they would be very serious.

Le Monde said that, according to sources, one of Macron’s phone numbers, which he had used regularly since 2017, is on the list of numbers selected by Morocco’s intelligence service for potential cyber-spying.

Morocco had issued a statement on Monday denying any involvement in using Pegasus and rejecting what it called “unfounded and false allegations”.

An investigation published on Sunday by 17 media organisations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said the spyware, made and licensed by Israeli company NSO, had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

The claim was based on a leaked document containing 50,000 numbers of people identified as potential targets for Pegasus between 2016 and June 2021.

The list was dominated by numbers from 10 countries – Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

British newspaper The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the list included the phone numbers of Macron and 13 other world leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Washington Post reported that the phone number of Iraq’s President Barham Salih was also on the list.

The Post said that it had not been possible to determine if the Pegasus spyware had infected Salih’s phone or whether there had been any attempt to do so.

In a statement, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard said: “The unprecedented revelation that the phones of at least fourteen heads of state may have been hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware should send a chill down the spine of world leaders.

“NSO Group can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime – it appears that Pegasus is also the spyware of choice for those wanting to snoop on foreign governments.”

‘Uncorroborated theories’

NSO issued a statement on Sunday rejecting the reporting by the media partners, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”.

Its product is intended only for use by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, it said.

Separately on Tuesday, Radio France reported that Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s phone, as well as “a large number” of Moroccan royals, were also on a list of numbers of people identified as potential Pegasus spyware targets by Morocco’s intelligence services.

It said they included the king’s wife, Lalla Salma Bennani, his cousin, Prince Moulay Hicham Alaoui – nicknamed the “red prince” for his progressive views, a former son-in-law of the late King Hassan II, entrepreneur Fouad Filali, and Hassan II’s former bodyguard, Mohamed Mediouri, who is the current king’s stepfather.

India’s parliament disrupted

In India, the country’s opposition parties disrupted Parliament on Tuesday, demanding an investigation into reports that the government used Pegasus spyware to snoop on many journalists, activists and politicians, including the main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

Shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the opposition members said they wanted an independent probe into the complaints of spying and the resignation of Interior Minister Amit Shah.

Indian news portal The Wire reported that smartphones of politicians including Gandhi, a senior leader of the opposition Congress party, and two other lawmakers were among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-19 ahead of national elections.

Source: News Agencies