Mexico says officials spent USD 61 million on Pegasus spyware.
Mexico’s top security official said Wednesday that two previous administrations spent $ 61 million to buy Pegasus spyware that has been involved in government surveillance of opponents and journalists around the world.
The Secretary of Public Security, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, said that there were records of 31 contracts signed during the governments of President Felipe Calderón in 2006-2012 and President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012-18. Some contracts may have been disguised as purchases of other equipment.
The government said many of the contracts with Israeli spyware firm NSO Group were signed with front companies, which are often used in Mexico to facilitate kickbacks or avoid taxes.
Last week, the government’s top anti-money laundering investigator said officials from the previous two administrations had spent about $ 300 million in government money to buy spyware. But that figure may reflect all spyware and surveillance purchases, or it may include contracts not yet identified.
Santiago Nieto, head of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, said that bills for programs like Pegasus spyware appear to have included overpayments that may have been funneled to government officials as bribes.
Nieto said the amounts paid and the way they were paid suggested government corruption in an already questionable wiretapping program that targeted journalists, activists, and opposition figures, which at the time included now President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and your inner circle.
“This implies or at least presumes the existence of acts of corruption, by selling (the spyware) to the government at inflated prices between 2012 and 2018,” said Nieto.
López Obrador took office on December 1, 2018, and vowed never to use spyware. Nieto said that no transactions had been detected in the current administration.
Mexico had the largest list, around 700 phone numbers, among the thousands allegedly selected by NSO clients for possible surveillance.