Hollywood producer and gum mogul said mulling joint takeover of NSO spyware assets

Movie man Robert Simonds and William Wrigley reportedly looking at buying out products, including notorious Pegasus, and transferring them to another company

Screen capture from video of Robert Simonds, chairman of STX Entertainment, on the red carpet for the Golden Globes Awards, 2018. (YouTube.  Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Robert Simonds, chairman of STX Entertainment, on the red carpet for the Golden Globes Awards, 2018. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Hollywood producer Robert Simonds is partnering with William Wrigley, heir to his family’s chewing gum fortune, for a possible takeover of Israeli spyware company NSO Group’s assets, according to a Wednesday report.

NSO produces Pegasus, a spyware program that gleans information from a target’s phone and that human rights groups allege has been abused by some regimes for repressive activities. Concerns over the use of Pegasus led to the Biden administration blacklisting NSO in 2021.

Multiple sources familiar with the developments told the Guardian that Simonds, the chairman of STX Entertainment and producer of several Adam Sandler movies, is in talks to buy out NSO’s assets.

In addition, the newspaper saw a document showing that a company owned by businessman Wrigley, who is involved in the cannabis industry, has conducted due diligence for a possible deal.

Simonds did not respond to a request for comment by the Guardian, while a spokesperson for NSO said she was “not aware” of Simonds’s plans.

Sources said that Simonds is considering buying out debt holders and other creditors and then transferring assets like Pegasus to another company. According to some, he has talked privately about handing NSO technology exclusively to the so-called “Five Eyes,” an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Screen capture from video of William Wrigley, 2019. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

One source close to Simonds said he was deeply involved in considerations for a takeover but had not yet decided due to obstacles in the path of a deal, such as objections from Israeli authorities to a sale. NSO is closely regulated by Israel’s Defense Ministry.

According to the source, Simonds is looking at legal action in Israel to achieve a sale of NSO assets and has prepared potential investors to finance the acquisition.

The report noted that the US government would not have a formal say in a potential deal.

However, last year Washington upended talks by US defense contractor L3Harris for a possible takeover, with an administration official saying it was due to security and counterintelligence concerns, the newspaper said.

The US blacklisting prevents the transfer of US technology to NSO without a special license. In addition, both Apple and Facebook are suing the company over allegations it targeted their users.

NSO says it sells its software to governments for use against criminals and terrorism and that clients have control over how it is used. The company also says it probes any credible allegations of abuse of its products. All sales require approval from Israel’s Defense Ministry.

A photographic illustration shows a mobile phone near the NSO Group company logo in the Israeli city of Netanya on February 9, 2022. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In March the Guardian reported that one of NSO’s original founders, Omri Lavie, had become the majority owner of the company. Simonds later joined the board of another company owned by Lavie, the Luxembourg-based Dufresne.

The source close to Simonds said that the financier is considering resigning from the company’s board as part of his move to acquire NSO assets.

After the Guardian published its report a spokesperson for Wrigley responded with a statement saying, “Mr Wrigley evaluates many opportunities, all of which are strictly confidential. Mr Wrigley is not pursuing an investment in NSO.”

Most Popular
read more: