Traces of Pegasus
spyware were found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers, the investigative website Mediapart has reported, citing multiple anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence dossier.
The allegation comes two months after the Pegasus
Project, a media consortium that included the Guardian, revealed that the phone numbers of top French officials, including French president Emmanuel Macron and most of his 20-strong cabinet, appeared in a leaked database at the heart of the investigative project.
There is no firm evidence that the phones of the five cabinet members were successfully hacked, but the Mediapart allegations indicate that the devices were targeted with the powerful spyware known as Pegasus
, which is made by NSO
When it is successfully deployed by the Israeli company’s government clients, Pegasus
allows its users to monitor conversations, text messages, photos and location, and can turn phones into remotely operated listening devices.
Project consortium, which was coordinated by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories, revealed that global clients of NSO
had used hacking software to target human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.
has said that its powerful spyware is meant to be used to investigate serious crime, and not to target members of civil society. It has said that it has no connection to the leaked database that was investigated by the Pegasus
Project and that the tens of thousands of numbers contained in the list are not the targets of NSO
’s government clients. It has also staunchly denied that Macron was ever targeted by Pegasus
In a statement released on Thursday night, NSO
said: “We stand by our previous statements regarding French government officials. They are not and have
never been Pegasus
targets. We won’t comment on anonymous source allegations.”
Mediapart said the telephones of the ministers for education, territorial cohesion, agriculture, housing and overseas – respectively Jean-Michel Blanquer, Jacqueline Gourault, Julien Denormandie, Emmanuelle Wargon and Sébastien Lecornu – showed traces of the Pegasus
It said not all the ministers were in their current posts at the time of the alleged targeting, which occurred in 2019 and, less frequently, in 2020, but all were ministers. The phone of one of Macron’s diplomatic advisers at the Élysée Palace had also been targeted, it said.
Forensic analysis of their devices at the end of July had revealed the presence of “suspect traces” of the spyware, according to a report by French state intelligence services and a parallel criminal investigation by the Paris public prosecutor, it said.
The alleged victims, approached either directly or through their offices, had either not responded or said they did not wish to comment publicly on such a sensitive subject. Some referred Mediapart to France’s secretariat-general for defence and national security (SGDSN), which also declined comment.
The Élysée Palace also said it would not comment on “long and complex investigations which are still ongoing”. At least one of the ministers has since changed both their telephone and phone number, Mediapart said.
The prosecutor’s office has declined to comment on the progress of its investigation or to confirm whether or not it had uncovered the hacking of the ministers’ phones, saying the inquiry was governed by rules of judicial secrecy.
The Élysée has not commented on the Pegasus
scandal since late July, when palace officials advised prudence, saying there was “no certainty at this stage”. Macron is, however, understood to have changed his phone number for some calls.
The French defence minister, Florence Parly, met her Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, in Paris in July and reportedly discussed the scandal, but no details of their conversation have leaked, Mediapart said.
The state secretary for European affairs, Clément Beaune, said in August that the “gravity of the allegations” and the ongoing judicial proceedings meant the government could say little. “We are still untangling the truth of the situation,” he said.