Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed Thursday that the manufacturers of the controversial Pegasus spyware — the Israel-based technologies company NSO Group — had approached the West Bengal Police in an attempt to sell them Pegasus, but that she had turned down the offer.
“They were selling their machines everywhere; they came to our police to sell it four-five years ago and asked for Rs 25 crores. I said we don’t want it,” the West Bengal CM claimed, while addressing a press conference at the State Secretariat. “It is one thing to use (it) for national security, but unacceptable when used for political work, against judges and officers,” she added.
Banerjee was referring to a report by a global collaborative which had claimed last year that over 300 mobile phones in India, including those of ministers and opposition leaders, were being targeted using the Pegasus spyware.
The West Bengal CM’s claim came in the backdrop of her budget speech for the state home department Wednesday, when she had alleged that BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had bought the Pegasus spyware. She also claimed former Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu was among those who had purchased it.
She added: “Suppose they put the machine in your car, from 10 km radius whatever one speaks on the phone will get recorded. Imagine how dangerous this is.”
This is the first time last year’s Pegasus controversy had been brought up in the West Bengal Assembly.
Banerjee’s claims of having turned down the “NSO offer” has, however, been refuted by the BJP.
“Is this Airtel or Reliance connection installment that they will go from state to state? Mamata Banerjee has been exposed by her own statement,” claimed BJP National Vice President Dilip Ghosh, while talking to ThePrint.
Ghosh added: “In the Parliament last year during the Pegasus debate, I had said that in 2017 Mamata had sent then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar to Israel to purchase Pegasus. But NSO Group refused to meet him. He went for a second time and bought the spyware. All documents are available with the Foreign Ministry. If required, we will show the documents. Mamata Banerjee has bought Pegasus and using it here in West Bengal.”
Allegations of snooping by Bengal CM
Soon after the Pegasus scandal broke out last year, the West Bengal CM had waved her mobile phone from the dais during TMC’s Shahid Diwas event, claiming that her phone was being snooped upon.
“What I speak with Abhishek (her nephew and senior TMC leader) and Prashant Kishor (political strategist) behind closed door, they (BJP) are listening to,” the TMC chief had claimed. Her nephew Abhishek Banerjee and Prashant Kishor’s names had featured in the list of those whose phones had been allegedly compromised or attempts of it had been made.
In July 2021, the West Bengal government had become the first state in the country to have started a probe into the alleged Pegasus scandal. Two retired judges had been appointed to form a panel and enquire into the alleged spying and submit their report to Banerjee.
The enquiry was stalled, however, by the Supreme Court within five months, as the matter was already being heard by the apex court. TMC National Vice President Yashwant Sinha was amongst petitioners who had filed a plea before the apex court seeking a thorough probe into the allegations.
The Supreme Court in October last year had formed a three-member expert committee to probe allegations of “illegal surveillance” using Pegasus spyware on key opposition leaders, judges, civil society members, journalists amongst others. TMC National Vice President Yashwant Sinha was amongst the petitioners who had filed a plea before the apex court seeking a thorough probe into the allegations.
ThePrint reached Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh and MP Sukhendu Shekhar Roy on the West Bengal CM’s claims, but both refused to make any comments saying she was the highest authority in the party and the state, and no one else will give their opinion on it from the party. Yashwant Sinha too declined to comment saying the matter was subjudice.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerje)