Morocco threatens legal action over ‘unfounded’ spyware allegations


The Moroccan government on Wednesday threatened legal action against anyone who accused it of using the Israeli spyware program Pegasus, deploring what it called a “false, massive, malicious media campaign”.

A government statement “categorically denied the false and baseless allegations” that the North African country’s intelligence services had used the software.

Authorities said a judicial inquiry was opened to identify the individuals behind the allegations.

News outlets reported Sunday that the software, developed by Israeli company NSO Group, had been used by governments to spy on activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians around the world.

The bomb claims were based on a leaked document containing 50,000 people identified as potential targets via Pegasus between 2016 and June 2021.

Numbers from 10 countries — Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — were especially common on the list.

Morocco said Monday it had “never purchased computer software to infiltrate communications equipment”.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported the following day that President Emmanuel Macron and members of his government were among the potential targets, allegedly because of the interests of a Moroccan security service.

Also on Tuesday, Radio France had reported that the Moroccan king was on the list of 50,000 songs, which also included “a large number” of Moroccan royals.

The Moroccan government’s statement on Wednesday said it would “choose legal proceedings, in Morocco and internationally, against any party taking these false accusations”.

The prosecutor said in a later statement, “A judicial investigation is underway into these false allegations and allegations to identify the parties responsible for their publication.”

Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can turn on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy.

In some cases, the software can be installed without tricking a user into starting a download.

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media nonprofit, and Amnesty International were given access to the leaked numbers, which they then shared with media organizations such as The Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde.

NSO has denied selling the software to authoritarian governments for the purpose of spying on dissenters, insisting it is only intended for use as a counter-terrorism and crime-fighting tool.