Tusk says PiS government “100% purchased and used” Pegasus spyware

Tusk says PiS government “100% purchased and used” Pegasus spyware
Parliamentary investigation into the use of Pegasus by former government to be set up next week. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw February 13, 2024

Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government, which lost power last year, purchased the controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus and used it in both legal and illegal ways, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on February 13.

The new ruling majority under Tusk is about to kick off a parliamentary investigation into the use of Pegasus by PiS next week. According to the new government, PiS used Pegasus to hack the phones of opposition politicians during the 2019 election campaign, in which PiS won re-election.

Polish media are now speculating that PiS even used Pegasus against its own people. An alleged list of wiretapped PiS figures including the former PM, Mateusz Morawiecki has been circulating in the media while PiS held an inner circle meeting this week to discuss the media reports.

"I have documents which unfortunately … confirm 100% the purchase and use, both legal and illegal, of Pegasus, and the list of victims of these practices is very long," Tusk told President Andrzej Duda at a joint meeting with the government.

Duda called the meeting to discuss strategic investments such as the new central airport for Poland and the country’s first nuclear power plant (NPP), which, he said, could be in doubt under Tusk.

But Tusk managed to control the narrative of the meeting by bringing up the Pegasus scandal.

“The complete set of documents will be made available to [President] Duda via Justice Minister Adam Bodnar,” Tusk said.

PiS does not deny the purchase of the spyware but maintains its use was never against the law.

“Each case of wiretapping was approved by both the prosecutor's office and the court,” PiS’ Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a press conference on February 13, TVN24 reported.

But in a related case involving the use of Pegasus, a court in Wroclaw said this week that Pegasus cannot be used legally in Poland since it requires hacking a phone, not simply following its communications after securing a permit to do so.

The Pegasus scandal erupted in late 2021 after the Associated Press reported on the findings of Canadian cyber security watchdog Citizen Lab.

The report claimed that the phone of Senator Krzysztof Brejza of then-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. He has also requested a criminal probe on the alleged wiretapping of PM Morawiecki. 

There are also doubts about how Pegasus was purchased. Polish media reported in early 2022 that the purchase operation was secretly orchestrated across many departments of the PiS government.

The government reportedly 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 a fund set up by the justice ministry to help crime victims and rehabilitation of prisoners. By law, CBA can only be financed from the central budget.