Spain's ombudsman to probe alleged cyber spying of Catalan figures

Catalonia's regional head of government Aragones speaks at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona
Catalonia's regional head of government Pere Aragones speaks during an interview at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, April 20, 2022. Picture taken April 20, 2022. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

MADRID, April 24 (Reuters) - Spain's ombudsman said on Sunday it would investigate the government's alleged spying of Catalan separatist figures during the height of the region's bid for independence, while the government announced a separate inquiry by its CNI intelligence agency.

The probes come following intense pressure on the government to explain itself after Canada's Citizen Lab group, a digital rights group, said more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement, including several MEPs, politicians, lawyers and activists, had been targets of "Pegasus" spyware made by Israel's NSO Group. read more

In an interview with Spanish paper El Pais on Sunday, Catalan leader Pere Aragones, said trust was "at a minimum" and called on the government to give answers in the next days.

Spain's Ombudsman, which supervises the activity of public administrations, said it was assessing "a possible inappropriate use of the Pegasus software tools" that may have put "fundamental rights", including privacy, at risk.

In a statement on Sunday, Spain's defence ministry said it supported the ombudsman's investigation, adding it would "highlight that the CNI has acted, at all times, in accordance with the legal system".

NSO said the allegations were false when they were made on Monday.

Spanish authorities have been trying to ease tensions with Catalonia's leaders since the allegations were made. Aragones called them "an unjustifiable disgrace".

Minister for the presidency Felix Bolanos said on Sunday after a meeting with his Catalan counterpart, Laura Vilagra, the CNI would conduct an internal investigation.

The Spanish government had a "clear conscience and nothing to hide", he said, and the main objective of the measures was to "clarify the facts as soon as possible".

He also pledged the government would convene the official secrets commission in parliament - where the director of the CNI would have to appear.

But Vilagra said the measures were "insufficient", adding "a scandal of this magnitude cannot be managed in a cosmetic way".

Citizen Lab said almost all of the infections by the Pegasus spyware took place between 2017 and 2020 in the wake of Catalonia's failed independence bid, that plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.

"Strong circumstantial evidence suggests a nexus with Spanish authorities," it said.

Reporting by Jessica Jones Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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