Polish government on the ropes over Pegasus spyware scandal

Polish government on the ropes over Pegasus spyware scandal
Israeli spyware company NSO, the maker of Pegasus, has said that it will investigate allegations of misuse of its software and if necessary cancel contracts.
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw January 4, 2022

Poland’s radical rightwing coalition government led by Law and Justice (PiS) is facing an ever-increasing number of tough questions over its alleged use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus to hack the phones of opposition figures.

The scandal erupted in late December after the Associated Press reported on the findings of Canadian cyber security watchdog Citizen Lab, which said the phone of Senator Krzysztof Brejza of the opposition Civic Platform party was hacked multiple times in 2019 when Brejza was at the helm of the party’s election campaign.

PiS won the election. Brejza now claims that hacking of his phone may have been instrumental in that success.

The Polish government is just the latest authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regime in Central Europe and Eurasia to stand accused of using Pegasus spyware against opposition figures. Viktor Orban's hybrid regime in Hungary has admitted buying the spyware but not said who it was used against, while the Kazakhstan dictatorship,  and that of Azerbaijan, have remained silent in the face of accusations that they have used it against opposition figures.

On January 3, the opposition newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza claimed in a report that the Pegasus operation was secretly orchestrated across many departments of the government.

The newspaper said that the government tweaked the rules of public financing to hand PLN25mn (€5.46mn) to the anti-corruption agency CBA to buy Pegasus.

The money allegedly came from the Justice Ministry’s fund, set up to help crime victims and rehabilitation of prisoners. By law, CBA can only be financed from the central budget, Gazeta Wyborcza said.

Deputy Justice Minister Michal Wos, who told the parliament’s public finance committee of the change in the financing rules, did not mention CBA would be a beneficiary.

“I don’t know what you’re asking about. I don’t know what system that might be,” Wos told reporters last week when asked about Pegasus.

“The subsidy [to the CBA] was discussed in the parliament and the media four years ago. The Justice Fund has a statutory obligation to finance the fight against crime,” Wos