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UN experts call for probe into alleged hack of Bezos by Saudi crown prince

UN special rapporteurs say Mohammed bin Salman surveilled Amazon CEO 'in an effort to influence, if not silence' Post's reporting on kingdom
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Riyadh in 2016 (AFP)

Two UN experts have called for US authorities to conduct an immediate investigation into allegations that Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ phone was hacked by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

The UN special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said on Wednesday that they had received information suggesting that Mohammed bin Salman had surveilled Bezos “in an effort to influence, if not silence” the Post’s reporting on his kingdom.

They said a forensic analysis concluded his phone was probably hacked by a malicious video file sent from a WhatsApp account  belonging to the crown prince in May 2018.

Within hours of receiving the video, the rapporteurs said there was "an anomalous and extreme change" in the phone's behaviour, with the level of outgoing data from the phone jumping nearly 30,000 percent - and later to 100,000 percent.

They said experts had advised that the most likely explanation of the phone’s behaviour was the use of spyware such as Pegasus, sold to the Saudis by the Israeli NSO Group, or less likely, Galileo, by the Milan-based Hacking Team. The NSO Group has denied that its technology was used to hack Bezos’ phone.

Further, the rapporteurs said that the circumstances around the alleged hacking should “strengthen support” for further investigation into the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Post and Middle East Eye columnist.

“At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post,” they said in a statement.

Last year, Callamard released a landmark, 100-page report into Khashoggi’s killing and has been pushing ever since for the UN and others to carry out an investigation into the killing.

A security consultant working for Bezos previously accused the Saudi government of hacking his phone last March, after the National Inquirer, a US tabloid, published details of an affair between Bezos and news anchor Lauren Sanchez.

But the rapporteurs’ statement, which included an annex of findings by cybersecurity experts, provided the most information made public to date of the purported hacking – or it was until the actual report produced by FTI Consulting, investigators hired by Bezos, was published late on Wednesday by Motherboard.

Both come a day after two media outlets first reported allegations that the crown prince's WhatsApp account was used to hack Bezos' phone in May 2018. 

Saudi officials have called for an investigation into the allegations and called "absurd".