Spain judge seeks to quiz Israeli firm CEO over Pegasus spyware scandal

Spain judge seeks to quiz Israeli firm CEO over Pegasus spyware scandal
2 min read
Spain is investigating Israeli spyware firm behind the hacking of mobile phones belonging to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles, which occurred last month.
Spain premier Pedro Sanchez's phone was hacked by Israeli spyware Pegasus last month [Getty]

A Spanish judge wants to visit Israel to quiz the CEO of an Israeli firm behind the Pegasus spyware over a top-level hacking scandal involving the Spanish premier's phone, a court said on Tuesday.

The plans were revealed by Spain's National Court as it lifted a gag order on its investigation into the tapping of mobile phones belonging to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles using Pegasus spyware made by Israel's NSO Group.

The probe began after the government filed a complaint with Spain's top criminal court on May 2, with the investigating judge set to quiz a key minister in early July.

Spain has already sent a formal request for international judicial assistance, known as a letter rogatory, to the Israeli government asking for information on "different aspects of the software tool", the court said.

But judge Jose Luis Calama now wants to go there in person to take a witness statement from NSO Group's chief executive.

Such a request must be approved by the Israeli authorities which could take months.

"The judge has agreed to expand on the letter rogatory so that a legal team headed by himself can travel there to take a witness statement from the CEO of the company that sells the Pegasus programme," the court said.

The Pegasus phone-hacking software belongs to NSO Group, which is based in the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya and headed by CEO Shalev Hulio, a co-founder of the spy-tech firm.

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'An external attack'

On Friday, the judge heard testimony from the former head of Spain's CNI intelligence agency, Paz Esteban, who was sacked on May 10 over the hacking scandal, the court said.

And on July 5, Calama will hear witness testimony from Felix Bolanos, a cabinet minister who is known for being close to Sanchez.

The government later said Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska's phone had also been targeted.

When the scandal broke, Bolanos said the Spanish government was "absolutely certain it was an external attack" but did not know who was behind it, nor the nature of the information stolen from the ministers' phones.

Local media has pointed the finger at Morocco, which at the time was locked in a bitter diplomatic spat with Spain.

Pegasus spyware infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

NSO Group says the software is only sold to government agencies to target criminals and terrorists with the green light of Israeli authorities.