Poland Audit Office Has Invoice for Purchase of Pegasus, May Reopen Investigation: Report

Recently, reports emerged that phones of aides associated with the main opposition coalition in Poland were hacked by Pegasus multiple times in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

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New Delhi: Following media reports that opposition members and a prosecutor had their phone hacked by the Pegasus spyware, Poland’s state-run auditor Supreme Audit Office (NIK) stated that it would re-open an investigation into the previously discovered invoice to purchase the Israeli firm NSO’s flagship product, according to Polish liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Last month, the Associated Press had in a series of reports claimed that the phones of the campaign head and the lawyer of the main opposition coalition had been hacked by Pegasus multiple times in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary elections.

On Monday, Gazeta Wyborcza published a report which said that the state-run auditor had discovered an invoice for 33.4 million zloty ($8.25 million) to purchase a surveillance system for the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) in 2018. At that time, the auditors had assessed that the financing was illegal as the funds came from a justice ministry fund to support victims of crime and to rehabilitate criminals.

The president of NIK, Marian Banaś, had told the paper that his organisation found an invoice showing that the authorities purchased Pegasus. Following the recent spate of disclosures of targeting of opposition figures and lawyers, the state auditor could re-open the investigation, a Krakow-based website, Notes from Poland, said in an outline of the Gazeta Wyborcza report.

Also read: Pegasus Was Used to Hack Phone of Polish Opposition Leader 33 Times During 2019 Polls

The Polish state auditor also described recent revelations that opposition figures had their devices hacked with Pegasus as “one of the most serious crises of democracy” in Poland.

The Polish newspaper also stated that the decision to sell Pegasus was made at a meeting of then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his Polish and Hungarian counterparts in July 2017. That year, Netanyahu had held a summit meeting in Budapest with the Visegrad Four – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the east European countries advocating for closer ties between Israel and the European Union.

As per the report, the state-of-the-art spyware had been purchased through the justice ministry’s fund, even though the CBA can only access finances directly from the state budget. A document obtained by the newspaper shows that the finance ministry found this to be a “violation of financial discipline” but decided it was not severe enough to merit action, Notes from Poland quoted from the GW report.

Polish ruling party members dismissed the Gazeta Wyborcza report. A spokesperson for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Radoslaw Fogiel, told a radio station that the newspaper, known for its hard-hitting anti-establishment report, was not a reliable source.

“How can I be sure that one of the authors did not find an old Pegasus games console [a Nintendo clone common in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s] in the attic and got confused,” he responded.

The deputy justice minister, Michał Woś, also tweeted a similar dismissal by posting a picture of a game console. He added that the accusations made by NIK were not new and had been discussed by the Polish parliament. Woś also wrote that the justice ministry’s funds had a statutory obligation to finance the fight against crime.

In response to the ruling parties, opposition parties pointed out that information about the use of Pegasus against rival politicians had not been disclosed when the matter of funds was discussed in parliament.

While parliament had discussed this issue four years ago, the liberal Modern (Nowoczesna) party leader Katarzyna Lubnauer said that “at that time PiS did not say Pegasus was to be used to surveil the opposition in order to win elections”.

Former European Council president and leader of centrist Civic Platform (PO), Donald Tusk, called for a parliamentary inquiry, stating that the revelations about the scandal were just the tip of the iceberg.

“There is no longer any doubt that extremely foul-smelling deeds were done,” Tusk told TVN24.

In the October 2019 parliamentary elections, the ruling Law and Justice party returned to power, winning 43.6% of the popular vote.

According to a forensic examination, the phones of Krzysztof Brejza and Roman Gierych, both associated with Civic Platform, were hacked 33 and 18 times, respectively, in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The third known victim is Ewa Wrzosek, a prosecutor fighting to preserve judicial independence in Poland. She had tweeted in November last year that she got an alert from Apple that her phone had been a target of possible cyberattack by government agencies.