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Catalan leader demands probe into alleged Spanish spying using Israeli tech

Roger Torrent demands investigation into reports his cellphone was hacked by Madrid, possibly employing NSO-made Pegasus software

Roger Torrent, president of Catalonian Parliament, speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Roger Torrent, president of Catalonian Parliament, speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

MADRID, Spain — The speaker of the Catalan regional parliament demanded Tuesday that the Spanish government launch an official investigation into reports that his cellphone was the target of espionage, allegedly by Spanish security services using Israeli-made software.

Roger Torrent, a leading supporter of Catalonia’s efforts to break away from Spain and become an independent country, said the reports “prove what we already knew: that the Spanish state spies on its political opponents.”

Demanding an investigation, he said in a televised statement, “It’s important for the truth to come out.”

A report published Tuesday by El Pais and The Guardian said Torrent was warned last year that his phone had been targeted by spyware that, according to its maker, the Israeli company NGO group, is sold only to governments and national security services.

The Spanish and British newspapers cited a US lawsuit involving the spyware, which, they reported, exploited an earlier vulnerability in WhatsApp and could potentially provide access to everything on a person’s cell phone. The reports provided no evidence that Torrent’s phone was hacked.

Two other well-known pro-independence figures in Catalonia were also targeted, according to the reports. Catalonia’s efforts to separate from Spain have long been a thorn in the side of Spanish governments.

An Israeli woman uses her phone in front of a building in Herzliya that housed the NSO Group intelligence firm, August 28, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP/File)

Spain’s intelligence service, known by its acronym CNI, declined to answer questions about the allegations.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s office said in a statement that the government was not aware that the three phones might have been hacked. It added that any such step would require a judge’s authorization.

According to the two newspapers, WhatsApp believes the attacks occurred in April and May last year. Over a two-week period, the newspapers reported, 1,400 WhatsApp users were allegedly targeted by the ‘Pegasus’ spyware, sold by NSO Group.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, acknowledged attacks happened at the time Torrent’s phone was allegedly targeted, but gave no further details. The company is taking legal action against NSO in connection with the attacks.

The Republican Left of Catalonia, a political party that wants Catalan independence and which includes Torrent in its ranks, and the pro-independence coalition JxCat demanded Tuesday that Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska appear urgently before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the reports.

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