‘Polish Watergate’: Tensions grow as Polish government pushed to investigate spyware claims

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Poland’s government is facing increasing pressure to investigate claims that it illegally used Pegasus, known powerful spyware, against its opponents.

Liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza published a report on Monday stating that Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau had bought the software back in 2017 and that it has been using it since.

The powerful malware allows its users to remotely hack into phones without the target’s knowledge, accessing the contents or even taking control of the device.

A 2021 investigation found that Pegasus, created by the Israeli company NSO Group, was used by governments across the world to spy on activists, journalists, and politicians — including in France, Spain, and Hungary.

The NSO Group insisted that Pegasus’ sole purpose is for law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and organised crime.

‘Polish Watergate’

Now in Poland, there are allegations that Pegasus has also been used by the government to target and hack several opposition figures.

Gazeta Wyborcza also alleged that the malware was bought for more than €5 million using special justice ministry funds intended for victims of crimes.

The hacking allegations have been dubbed as a “Polish Watergate” — a reference to a 1972-1974 scandal that led to former US president Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Last month, AP reported that the phone of a Polish opposition senator Krzysztof Brejza, who was head of the Civic Coalition election campaign at the time, was hacked 33 times in 2019, purportedly by using Pegasus.

Messages taken illegally from Brejza phone were leaked by state media, leading to what was seen as a smear campaign. The ruling Law and Justice or PiS party secured a narrow victory in the elections.

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The phones of prominent opposition lawyer Roman Giertych and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek — both at odds with the ruling party — were also hacked.

Government continues to deny involvement

Despite these media reports, Poland’s government has been downplaying the situation.

Deputy justice minister Michał Woś responded on Twitter with a picture of a game console from the 1990s also called Pegasus and called the accusations a “reheated cutlet”.

Last week Woś also told Polish media that he had “no knowledge of such a system”.

But for the opposition, these claims are a direct attack on democracy.

Bogdan Klich, a senior MEP with the opposition Civic Platform party tweeted that the “Polish Watergate is expanding its reach.”

“Pegasus was not only used illegally, it was also bought illegally”, Klich wrote, referring to the government funds used to purchase the spyware.

Researchers on the Pegasus spyware said that this could just be the “tip of the iceberg” in relation to the scope of the surveillance in the country.

The government has continually rejected the accusations that it had even bought Pegasus and has refused to open an investigation into the hacking claims.

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