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Spain judge to probe Israel’s NSO over Catalan bugging

A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

A Spanish judge has authorized a probe into an Israeli firm behind the Pegasus spyware over the alleged hacking of phones belonging to Catalan independence supporters, court documents show.

More than 60 phones were targeted, most of them belonging to people associated with the Catalan separatist party ERC, with the complaint filed by party lawyer Andreu Van den Eynde.

The complaint was accepted on July 1 by the examining magistrate at a Barcelona court, with the decision released on Thursday.

In a statement, Van den Eynde says it was the first such investigation into Israel’s NSO Group and the use of its Pegasus software for espionage involving Catalan separatists.

According to court documents seen by AFP, the Spanish probe will seek to establish whether NSO committed any crime “in the creation and provision of the Pegasus program to third parties.”

It will also see whether the company carried out “actions or omissions” that involved the “verification of, access to and extraction of information” on mobile phones, as alleged by the plaintiff.

The scandal broke in April when Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said more than 60 mobiles of people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped using Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

Although Spain acknowledged its intelligence services had spied on the phones of 18 separatist leaders — with court approval — it said the “vast majority” of numbers identified by Citizen Lab were hacked by “unknown actors.”

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