EU looking into Cyprus link to Pegasus spy probe

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Cyprus is in the middle of another spy-related scandal, following the infamous ‘spy van’ case two years ago, as the European Commission is asking questions about its link to Israel’s Pegasus spyware.

Brussels wants to know how Cyprus is implicated in the Israeli Pegasus spyware platform allegedly misused by governments and institutions to spy on politicians, reporters, and other public figures.

The recent revelations come from a joint investigation of 17 international news organisations, including the Washington Post, Haaretz, The Guardian, into the controversial Pegasus surveillance software produced by the Israeli company NSO Group.

It is estimated that over 50,000 telephone numbers, mainly journalists, activists, and politicians, are being monitored through the software.

France’s Le Monde said those targeted include the mobile phone number of European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron, which took part in the investigation.

According to Deutsche Welle, the European Commission has turned its eyes to Cyprus and Bulgaria, named as the two countries where Israeli NSO allegedly sold mobile phone tracking software.

The Commission sent a question to the European Parliament asking whether the EU had funded in any way the activities of NSO and whether the states involved had acted in compliance with EU regulations when it came to exporting Pegasus software.

Brussels questions Cyprus’ actions on checking the export of Pegasus, as it is considered military material, requiring increased controls over purchase transactions and export protocols.

Pegasus buyers were supposed to be states and government services; however, it was allegedly used to spy on France’s President Emanuel Macron, three EU Prime Ministers currently in office, seven former Prime Ministers, government officials in Mexico and Kazakhstan, and journalists in Europe.

The Pegasus spyware was even linked to the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in 2018 in Istanbul.

Reportedly, a group of people close to the Washington Post reporter had their devices trapped by Pegasus.

The recent revelations over the Pegasus project are not the first to implicate Cyprus with the Israeli surveillance industry.

In 2019, Cyprus police launched an investigation into the import of meteorological equipment that later emerged as spyware used to interception information and breaches of sensitive personal data.

A state-of-the-art spy van capable of hacking any mobile phone was impounded in Larnaca by police during an investigation.

Forbes had at the time reported that an ex-Israeli intelligence officer was driving around in a GMC-type black ambulance turned surveillance unit with €9 mln worth of spying equipment, in a short video documentary which went viral.

Legal issues have dogged the ‘spy van’ probe.