The leader of a radical farmers’ union and a journalist who co-authored a book on a top government politician were targeted in a phone hacking operation using the notorious Israeli spyware Pegasus, the Canadian cyber security watchdog Citizen Lab said on January 25.
The new finding by Citizen Lab deepens the hacking scandal that erupted in December when the Associated Press first reported on Pegasus being used to hack the phone of an opposition senator Krzysztof Brejza.
Brejza’s phone was hacked multiple times in 2019 when he was at the helm of the party’s election campaign. Poland's incumbent ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS) won the election. Brejza now claims that hacking of his phone may have been instrumental in that success.
More targets have been uncovered since, including a prosecutor critical of the government’s judiciary reforms and a prominent opposition-linked lawyer.
Citizen Lab said that the latest victims were Michal Kolodziejczak, the leader of AGROunia, a radical farmers’ union, and Tomasz Szwejgiert, a journalist who co-authored a book on Mariusz Kaminski, the head of Poland’s secret services.
“Now I know that the PiS [government] will stop at nothing to stay in power. This is a political war,” Kolodziejczak said in reaction.
Szwejgiert “was hacked 21 times with Pegasus from late March to June of 2019, intrusions that began after he and his collaborators sent questions to the Polish government about Kaminski,” the Associated Press reported.
The spokesman for Poland’s security services told the Associated Press that Szwejgiert was charged with “serious economic crimes” and that “omission of these facts casts a serious shadow of doubt about the credibility of the assessments of Canadian experts who do not seem to know the realities they describe”.
Szwejgiert denied these revelations, telling the Associated Press that he “served two prison terms for crimes that he did not commit”.
Since the scandal broke out, the Polish government has gone from denying any knowledge of Pegasus to admitting that Poland had bought it but not used it for political purposes.
The Polish media allege that the government violated the rules of public financing to hand PLN25mn (€5.46mn) to the anti-corruption agency CBA to buy Pegasus.
The money allegedly came from the justice ministry’s fund, set up to help crime victims and rehabilitation of prisoners. By law, CBA can only be financed from the central budget.
The Polish government is just the latest authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regime in Central Europe and Eurasia to stand accused of using Pegasus spyware against opposition figures. Viktor Orban's hybrid regime in Hungary has admitted buying the spyware but not said who it was used against, while the Kazakhstan dictatorship, and that of Azerbaijan, have remained silent in the face of accusations that they have used it against opposition figures.