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Phones of five French ministers infected by Pegasus malware: report

French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, waves to journalists as he welcomes Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati (not seen) as he arrives for a working lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS: The mobile phones of at least five French ministers and a diplomatic advisor to President Emmanuel Macron were infected by the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, sources told AFP on Friday, confirming a report by the Mediapart investigative website.

French security services detected the software while inspecting the phones, with the intrusions believed to have taken place in 2019 and 2020, according to the report from Mediapart on Friday.

Pegasus, made by the Israeli firm NSO Group, can switch on a phone's camera or microphone and harvest its data, and was at the centre of a storm in July after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets worldwide was leaked to the media.

The media consortium behind the revelations, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and France's Le Monde, reported at the time that one of Macron's phone numbers and those of many French cabinet ministers were on the leaked list of potential targets.

French authorities declined to comment on Friday.

The five ministers targeted are Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Territorial Cohesion Minister Jacqueline Gourault, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon and Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu, Mediapart said.

Two French sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the veracity of the report, while asking not to be identified by name because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

"My phone is one of those checked out by the national IT systems security agency, but I haven't yet heard anything about the investigation so I cannot comment at this stage," Wargon told the L'Opinion website Friday.

One of her aides told AFP that "the minister doesn't have access to any state secrets, so we can't really see the point of spying on her."

In July, Le Monde reported that evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the phone of the former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco.

Morocco's intelligence services were also accused of being behind the hacking of journalists in France, but the kingdom's government has denied the claims and launched legal action alleging defamation.

 

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