After removal as CBI chief, 8 phones of Alok Verma, kin listed for Pegasus snooping, claims report- The New Indian Express

By PTI

NEW DELHI: Eight phones of the then CBI director Alok Verma and his family members were put in the list of devices targeted for snooping using Pegasus spyware by an unknown Indian agency soon after he was divested of the coveted charge on October 23, 2018, The Wire reported on Thursday.

Along with Verma, phones of his second-in-command Special Director Rakesh Asthana, against whom he had registered a corruption case on October 21, 2018, and the then Joint Director A K Sharma were also put on the list for surveillance using sophisticated malware, it said.

According to the report, eight phones belonging to Verma family, including three of him along with those of his wife, daughter and son-in-law were put in the list of persons of interest targeted by the Israeli snooping malware.

All these numbers, including that of Asthana and Sharma, remained in the list for a short period till Verma retired from service on January 31, 2019.

They were taken off the list in February, 2019, it said.

Israeli group NSO insists the leaked database accessed by French non-profit media organisation Forbidden Stories has nothing to do with it or its software Pegasus which is being used by “vetted governments”.

The government and the ruling BJP have dismissed the Pegasus Project reports as concocted and evidence-less.

Law and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, whose own phone number was among those listed as compromised, said in a statement in Parliament on Thursday that the reports are “attempt to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.

According to The Wire, which is one of the 15 international media organisations with whom the database was shared, Verma declined to participate in the story hence forensic examination of his phones, the only way to establish if they were successfully infected with the snooping malware, could not be carried out.

Questions seeking reactions of Verma, Asthana and Sharma remained unanswered.

While Verma and Sharma have retired from the service, Asthana is the chief of Border Security Force which guards the sensitive borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Verma and Asthana were sent on forced leave in an unprecedented order of the Centre in late night of October 23, 2018.

The order divesting Verma of CBI director’s post, which has a two-years fixed tenure, was issued nearly three months before he was scheduled to complete his tenure on January 31, 2019.

The controversial directive which was reversed by the Supreme Court later was issued two days after Verma booked Asthana in corruption charges and conducted searches.

Later, Asthana was cleared of all charges by the CBI which probed allegations against him.

On Sunday, an international media consortium reported that over 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through the spyware.

A French non-profit media group Forbidden Stories accessed a leaked database comprising 50,000 numbers believed to be linked to potential targets of Pegasus.

The database was shared with 15 other media partners across the globe including The Wire in India.

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