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Spain Closes Pegasus Investigation Over ‘lack Of Cooperation’ From Israel

A Spanish judge investigating the alleged hacking of ministers’ phones with Pegasus spyware has shelved his investigation over a “complete” lack of cooperation from Israel, a court statement said on Monday.

In June 2022, José Luis Calama said he had sent a formal request for international judicial assistance, known as a letter rogatory, to the Israeli government asking for information about the software made by the Israeli firm NSO Group.

He also said he wanted to go there in person to take a witness statement from NSO’s chief executive.

But on Monday, the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court, said Calama had decided to provisionally close the case “due to the complete lack of legal cooperation from Israel, which has not responded to the rogatory commission … and has prevented the investigation from going ahead”.

The investigation began in May 2022 after the Spanish government said the spyware, which can infiltrate mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners, had been used against phones belonging to top politicians.

Among those targeted were the phones of the prime minister Pedro Sánchez; the defence minister, Margarita Robles; the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and the agriculture minister, Luis Planas.

But the Israeli government had not answered the request for assistance, which had been sent “four times”, meaning “it probably never would”, the court said in a statement, indicating the only remaining option was diplomacy.

“All that remains is a possible diplomatic channel capable of promoting compliance with the obligations derived from international treaties,” it said.

The court said Sánchez’s phone had been targeted on five occasions between October 2020 and December 2021. But despite a prolonged analysis of the four phones, it had not been possible to determine “who was behind the attacks”, the statement said.

Spain’s government has blamed it on “an external attack” while the Spanish press has pointed the finger at Morocco, given the context of an ongoing diplomatic crisis between the two countries at the time.

The Guardian and El País first reported in June 2020 that the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament, Roger Torrent, and at least two other pro-independence supporters had been alerted that they had been targeted in what at the time was called a “possible case of domestic political espionage”. Dozens more cases were later identified in April 2022, when researchers at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School published a report saying the phones of at least 65 Catalan separatists had been targeted using Pegasus after the failed 2017 independence bid.

NSO has said its spyware is sold to government clients only for the purposes of investigating serious crime and terrorism. It has said it investigates legitimate allegations of abuse.

The spy chief Paz Esteban told a parliamentary committee in 2022 that 18 Catalan separatists, including Catalan regional leader, Pere Aragonès, had been spied on with Pegasus software – but always with court approval. She was later sacked.

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