Jeff Bezos’s mobile phone was hacked with a WhatsApp message sent from a number belonging to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, it has been claimed.
The Amazon boss and world’s richest man had intimate photos and messages stolen in 2018 after an infected video file was sent to his phone, according to The Guardian.
An analysis of Mr Bezos’s device reportedly found that the hack occurred during a seemingly innocuous WhatsApp conversation with Saudi heir Mohammed bin Salman.
The alleged exchange took place in May, several months before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident who wrote articles frequently criticising Saudi Arabia in the Washington Post, the US newspaper owned by Mr Bezos.
Private messages revealing that Mr Bezos, who is worth around £90 billion, was having an affair with media personality Lauren Sanchez were first published in early 2019 by The National Enquirer.
The billionaire later alleged that the US tabloid’s parent company AMI had attempted to use intimate photos to blackmail Mr Bezos, who is now divorced, into dropping an investigation into how the text messages had been obtained.
He intimated at close links between the National Enquirer and Saudi Arabia, and indicated that his ownership of the Washington Post could have been a factor, writing: “It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.”
Gavin de Becker, the private investigator hired by Mr Bezos, later claimed that the Saudis had hacked Mr Bezos’ phone, although he did not name Mr bin Salman or elaborate on how it was hacked.
UN investigators probing Mr Khashoggi’s death in a Saudi embassy in Istanbul, five months after the alleged hack, have reportedly reviewed the forensic analysis of Mr Bezos’s phone.
After the video file was sent, large quantities of data were able to be stolen from the device.
In November of last year, WhatsApp said it fixed a security flaw that involved sending a video file through the app and which allowed an attacker to run code on a target’s device. There is no evidence that this was the particular vulnerability allegedly used to hack Mr Bezos and the messaging app has said the flaw was discovered inside WhatsApp, rather than reported to it. WhatsApp did not comment.
The claims raise new questions about Mr bin Salman’s activities in the run-up to Mr Khashoggi’s death. The crown prince has always denied personal involvement in the dissident’s murder, for which five people were sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia last year.
Saudi Arabia denied the claims and said suggestions that it had hacked Mr Bezos's phone were "absurd."
"Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr Jeff Bezos's phone are absurd," Saudi Arabia's US embassy said on Twitter. "We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."