The French government said on Thursday (22 July) that it had launched an investigation into allegations that Morocco mounted surveillance of President Emmanuel Macron’s mobile phone using the Israeli Pegasus software.
“The President of the Republic is following this Pegasus file as closely as possible,” with “an exceptional defence council,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told broadcaster France Inter.
“A number of cell phones, politicians, journalists have been targeted, and this investigation does not say whether these phones were all actually infected, whether data was removed from them. So that’s what we’re looking at,” Attal added.
The announcement follows allegations first published over the weekend by Project Pegasus, a consortium of 17 media organisations, Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, that 12 governments have been spying on journalists and politicians using sophisticated software developed by Israeli firm NSO.
Macron’s number, along with those of some of his government colleagues, were included on the list of 50,000 phone numbers offered by NSO to its customers.
The Élysée told EURACTIV that “if the allegations are proven, they are obviously very serious” and that “light would be shed” on the matter.
Morocco denies being among the clients of the Israeli company, but has been implicated in the scandal for having allegedly wiretapped many French journalists.
Investigative news outlet Mediapart announced it was filing a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor on behalf of journalists Lénaïg Bredoux and Edwy Plenel, who say they have been spied on, saying that in both cases, the Pegasus software was operated by Moroccan secret services.
The firm NSO has denied all wrongdoing, denouncing the “wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources.”
On Wednesday the company said it would not take any further media inquiries. In a statement entitled “Enough is Enough,” it said that “the numbers in the list are not related to NSO group.”
Interviewed by i24NEWS, NSO’s head of compliance, Haim Gelfand, said: “I can tell you with certainty that President Macron was not a target.”
The French head of state is not the only alleged target. Amnesty International has said 14 heads of state were selected as persons of interest by NSO clients, including Pakistan’s Imran Khan and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as hundreds of government officials.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond/Luca Bertuzzi]