Spanish PM vows accountability over alleged use of Israeli spyware against Catalans

Pedro Sanchez says answer needed amid claims notorious Pegasus software was used on leading figures in Catalonian separatist movement including elected officials

Photo taken on April 19, 2022 at the EU Parliament in Brussels shows a document entitled, 'Catalangate democracy under surveillance.' (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
Photo taken on April 19, 2022 at the EU Parliament in Brussels shows a document entitled, 'Catalangate democracy under surveillance.' (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

MADRID, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez vowed Wednesday to “be accountable” for allegations that Madrid spied on dozens of Catalan separatist figures using controversial spyware.

The allegations have strained relations between Sanchez’s leftist minority coalition government and the Catalan separatist party ERC, whose support he needs to pass legislation.

Canada’s Citizen Lab group said last week that more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

Elected officials, including current and former Catalan regional leaders, were among those targeted by the spyware made by Israel’s NSO group, which infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone and spy on its owners.

“We will be accountable,” Sanchez said during a parliamentary debate, his first public comments on the spying allegations.

“This is a serious issue which demands serious answers,” he added.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 21, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

The government said Sunday it would launch inquiries into the affair.

It has neither confirmed nor denied whether it uses Pegasus or similar spyware, saying only that any surveillance was carried out under the supervision of judges.

Sanchez vowed “maximum transparency,” saying documents could be declassified to help the investigations.

At the same time, he defended Spain’s intelligence service, the CNI, saying everything it had done had been carried out “scrupulously and with rigor, within the framework of the law.”

Citizen Lab, which operates out of the University of Toronto, focuses on high-tech human rights abuses.

In its analysis, it said it could not directly attribute the spying operations to the government, but that circumstantial evidence pointed to Spanish authorities.

Those targeted included “members of the European Parliament, Catalan Presidents, legislators, jurists, and members of civil society organizations,” it said.

Catalan separatists have pointed the finger at Spain’s intelligence service.

Top-selling Spanish daily El Pais reported Tuesday that the service had court approval to spy on Catalan separatist figures, and that the spying targeted far fewer people than alleged by Citizen Lab.

Catalonia, in northeast Spain, has been for several years at the center of a political crisis between separatists, who control the executive and the regional parliament, and the central government in Madrid.

Tensions had eased since dialogue began between Sanchez’s government and the regional authorities in 2020 and the granting of pardons to nine pro-independence leaders last year.

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