Morocco to investigate ‘unfounded allegations’ on NSO spyware

The government accused media and rights groups that have reported on Pegasus of “hateful attacks.”
Thursday 22/07/2021
A man reads at a stand of the NSO Group Technologies at the annual European Police Congress in Berlin, February, 2020. (REUTERS)
A man reads at a stand of the NSO Group Technologies at the annual European Police Congress in Berlin, February, 2020. (REUTERS)

RABAT--Morocco’s General Prosecutor said it will open an investigation into what it called “unfounded allegations” that the country had used Israeli spyware for surveillance, state media reported on Wednesday.

Rabat has denied buying or using the Pegasus spyware licensed by Israel-based NSO group after Amnesty International and a group of 17 international media organisations reported that it had targeted thousands of phone numbers.

In a statement carried by the Moroccan news agency MAP, the prosecutor said a “thorough investigation” will be launched “after being informed of certain media reports and articles published by foreign newspapers (…),  which include serious accusations and allegations against the Moroccan public authorities and involve national constitutional institutions in cases undermining the higher interests of the Kingdom of Morocco.”

The prosecutor added written instructions were given to open “a judicial inquiry into these false allegations and accusations and the identification of the parties behind their publication.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Morocco’s government accused media and rights groups that have reported on Pegasus of “hateful attacks” aimed at putting Rabat “under their control” and demanded they provide material evidence for the allegations.

French newspaper Le Monde reported on Tuesday that President Emmanuel Macron’s phone had been targeted using Pegasus on behalf of Morocco, potentially damaging Rabat’s relations with a major European ally after recent rows with Spain and Germany.

The journalism non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories said Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and other members of the royal family were also targeted by a Moroccan client of NSO.

NSO issued a statement on Sunday rejecting the reporting by the media partners, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. Its product is intended only for use by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, it said.

In June 2020, an Amnesty International report claimed the NSO Group contributed to a sustained campaign by the Moroccan government to spy on journalist Omar Radi.

Rabat strongly denied the accusation and called on the organisation to provide evidence of Morocco’s involvement in this case.

Morocco reiterated in its statement on Wednesday that it “rejects these false and unfounded allegations and challenges their peddlers, “including Amnesty International and the non-profit Forbidden Stories, as well as those who support them and those under their protection, to provide any tangible and material evidence in support of their surreal stories.”