Monday is a public holiday in Madrid, but the government didn't want to wait: Minister of State Félix Bolaños called for a press conference early in the morning.

Because the Pegasus affair, which has kept Spain in suspense for two weeks, had taken a dramatic turn.

Spy software from Israel was also discovered on the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles.

Hans Christian Roessler

Political correspondent for the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb based in Madrid.

  • Follow I follow

It had previously been found on the devices of more than 60 Catalan separatists.

The government said 2.6 gigabytes of data leaked from Sánchez' device in May and June 2021.

It is worrying that the Pegasus attacks on the specially secured, encrypted service telephones went undetected for months.

"We are absolutely certain that this is an attack from outside," Minister of State Bolaños said on Monday.

The Israeli software is usually only sold to governments to use in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.

The newspaper El País pointed out that countries like Russia and China usually don't use them, but Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, which actually have friendly relations with Spain, do.

Morocco under suspicion

The serious diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain only ended a few weeks ago.

It peaked in spring 2021 after the Spanish government secretly let Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Liberation Front fighting for Western Sahara's independence, into the country for medical treatment and Moroccan security forces allowed about 10,000 Moroccans to enter Spain unhindered let the exclave of Ceuta flow.

Last summer, the mobile phones of French President Emmanuel Macron and leading government officials became the target of the spyware.

At that time, Morocco was also under suspicion, whose government rejected the allegations.

The Canadian research group "Citizen Lab", which found evidence of the infection of more than 60 devices belonging to Catalan and Basque separatists two weeks ago, also pointed to suspected cases in London at the time.

Accordingly, there were Pegasus attacks on devices belonging to British diplomats and on Downing Street, with which, among other things, the Emirates and Jordan were associated.

In around 20 countries, Pegasus was used primarily against members of the opposition, critics of the regime and journalists – including in the EU member state of Hungary.

The program, the use of which caused a political scandal in Israel, is said to have been sold to the governments of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and other countries - as well as to German and Spanish security authorities.

In Spain, the previously known Pegasus spying attempts, which targeted not only separatist activists but also Catalan officials and members of parliament, led to a government crisis.

Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès blames Spanish security services.

He demands the resignation of Secretary of Defense Robles, who is responsible for the secret service CNI.

On Monday, Aragonès criticized the "double standards of the Spanish government" which tried to ignore the Pegasus suspicion when it concerned separatists but reacted immediately to Sánchez and Robles.

Regarding these attacks, Minister of State Bolaños emphasized that they happened “outside state institutions” and without “court approval from an official body”.

In doing so, he ruled out Spanish security services as authors.