Complaining Israel failed to cooperate, Spanish judge hits pause on Pegasus espionage probe

Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was used to hack phones of Spain’s prime minister and other top politicians

Alyssa McMurtry  | 10.07.2023 - Update : 10.07.2023
Complaining Israel failed to cooperate, Spanish judge hits pause on Pegasus espionage probe


A Spanish judge announced on Monday that he was pausing an investigation into who hacked the phones of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and other high-ranking politicians due to Israel’s “absolute” lack of cooperation.

The investigation concluded that between 2020 and 2021, Sanchez’s phone was infected five times with the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware. In total, at least 2.7 MB of material was downloaded from the premier’s phone.

The probe also found that the Spanish defense minister’s phone was hacked four times, the interior minister’s phone was hacked twice and the agricultural minister’s phone was targeted once.

However, Judge José Luis Calama of the National High Court said the investigation hit a dead end after Israel ignored four formal requests from Spanish authorities asking to collect testimony from the Israeli manufacturer of Pegasus software – the NSO Group – and its CEO.

“All that remains,” according to the judge, is for the Spanish government to diplomatically pressure Israel to stop obstructing the investigation.

The judge said the investigation suggests that someone committed serious crimes, including revealing state secrets. Given the timing of the hacks, when diplomatic tension between Madrid and Rabat was exceptionally high, a European Parliament report has pointed to Morocco as “possibly” responsible for the spying.

While the NSO Group states that it provides “authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime,” its Pegasus spyware has been implicated in targeting politicians, journalists and activists.

A separate 2022 report by CitizenLab revealed the widespread use of Pegasus against 63 Spanish individuals, including separatist Catalan politicians and citizens. After the report, Spain’s defense minister admitted to surveilling 20 people involved in the Catalan independence movement, although without disclosing the use of Pegasus.

The same European Parliament report suggesting a link between Morocco to the high-profile phone hacks said it is “assumed that the surveillance of Catalan targets was carried out by Spanish authorities.”

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