SAN FRANCISCO/CAIRO (Reuters) -U.N. experts have demanded an immediate investigation by U.S. and other authorities into allegations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
The U.N. special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said today that they had information pointing to the “possible involvement” of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the alleged 2018 cyberattack.
Saudi officials dismissed the allegations as absurd.
Callamard, the special rapporteur for extra-judicial killings, and Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, said the allegation of Saudi involvement “demands immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities.”
They said a forensic analysis of the alleged hacking, which a person familiar with the matter said had been commissioned by Bezos, concluded his phone was probably hijacked by a malicious video file sent from a WhatsApp account purportedly belonging to the crown prince in April or May of 2018.
The rapporteurs said the analysis, which they deemed credible, found that within hours of receiving the video there was “an anomalous and extreme change” in the device’s behavior, with the level of outgoing data from the phone jumping nearly 300-fold.
The allegations could further damage relations between billionaire tech tycoon Bezos and Riyadh, and risk harming the kingdom’s reputation with foreign powers and investors.
The alleged cyberattack is said to have taken place months before the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Prince Mohammed, or MbS, said last year that the killing was carried out by rogue operatives and that he did not order it.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud dismissed the allegations of the prince’s involvement in any phone hack of Bezos.
“I think ‘absurd’ is exactly the right word,” he told Reuters in an interview in Davos. “The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly.”
The special rapporteurs report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, but they are independent watchdogs and not U.N. officials. Their recommendations are not binding on countries, though are widely seen as carrying moral weight.
In another previous flashpoint between the Amazon founder and Riyadh, Bezos’ security chief said last year that the Saudi government had gained access to his phone and leaked messages to U.S. tabloid the National Enquirer between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, an ex-TV anchor who the newspaper said he was dating.
A month before, Bezos had accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez.
The Saudi government has denied having anything to do with the National Enquirer reporting.
The Guardian first reported https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/21/amazon-boss-jeff-bezoss-phone-hacked-by-saudi-crown-prince the crown prince’s alleged involvement in a phone hacking plot on Bezos.
Saudi Arabia’s U.S. embassy also dismissed the allegations.
“We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out,” it said in a message posted on Twitter.
Amazon declined to comment.