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Spain judge seeks to quiz Israeli CEO over spyware scandal

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The probe began after the government filed a complaint on May 2, with the investigating judge set to quiz a key minister in early July

The probe began after the government filed a complaint on May 2, with the investigating judge set to quiz a key minister in early July

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

The plans were revealed by Spain’s top criminal 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 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 the judge, Jose Luis Calama, now wants to go there in person to take a witness statement from NSO Group’s chief executive.

Israeli authorities must approve such a request, 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.

A spokeswoman for NSO said the group operated within the bounds of the law.

“NSO operates under a strict legal framework and is confident that this will be the result any government inquiry will reach,” she told AFP.

There was no immediate response from the Israeli authorities. 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 Mr. Sanchez.

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

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

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.



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