MEXICO CITY – Mexico is investigating suspected corruption linked to a $32 million purchase of Pegasus malware allegedly used by authorities to spy on political opponents and journalists, a government agency said Wednesday.
An international media investigation this week revealed that there were more than 50,000 of the 15,000 Mexican smartphone numbers selected by customers of the Israeli firm NSO, which developed Pegasus.
These include 25 journalists and even numbers associated with the inner circle before leftist President Andres Manuel López Obrador took office.
The corruption investigation is focused on two Mexico-based companies, Balam Seguridad Privada and Grupo Tech Bull, director of the financial intelligence unit, Santiago Nieto, told reporters.
Grupo Tech Bull obtained a contract with the attorney general’s office for $32 million to purchase Pegasus spyware in 2014, when Enrique Pea Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was president, he said.
Another firm linked to Grupo Tech Bull called KBH was in charge of transferring the funds to NSO.
Funding ended up in Italy, the United States and Israel, Nieto said, with Grupo Tech Bull suspected of being a front company.
He said Mexican authorities were investigating possible money laundering and tax evasion and would block the accounts of 24 people linked to the case.
According to the Pegasus Project investigation, Mexican agencies that acquired the spyware include the Defense Ministry and the National Security Intelligence Service.
López Obrador has said that authorities now only spy on criminals, not political opponents or journalists.
It is alleged that Pegasus was used to target more than a dozen heads of state and hundreds of journalists have called for Israel to suspend the export of spy technology.