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Spain judge to quiz ministers over spyware scandal

A judge in Spain probing the use of Pegasus spyware to tap top politicians’ phones will question the defence and interior ministers, whose devices were among those hacked, a court said Thursday.

The judge opened the probe in response to a complaint from the Spanish government, which in May said the spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group was used to snoop on ministers last year.

Among those targeted were Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Defence Minister Margarita Robles and Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

High Court judge Jose Luis Calama will call Robles and Grande-Marlaska to testify as witnesses as part of his investigation, the court said in a statement.

The judge will also ask the government to “declassify” documents “which may be affected” by the testimony which the two ministers will give, it added.

The government has not elaborated on the circumstances of the snooping on the ministers or who was behind it, saying only that it was “an external attack”.

But local media have pointed the finger at Morocco, which at the time was locked in a bitter diplomatic spat with Spain.

Calama has already heard witness testimony from Felix Bolanos, a cabinet minister known to be close to Sanchez.

The affair broke in April when Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said the telephones of more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped using Pegasus spyware.

The snooping followed a failed Catalan independence bid in 2017.

Sanchez acknowledged that the mobile phones of 18 Catalan separatist leaders had been hacked by the CNI intelligence agency, whose head was sacked in May over the hacking scandal.

The government then revealed that several of its ministers’ phones had been hacked.

Pegasus spyware infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

NSO Group says the software is only sold to government agencies in order to target criminals and terrorists, and sales require Israeli government approval.