United Nations: Saudi Arabia 'possibly involved' in Jeff Bezos phone hack

Tom McArthur
Page editor
Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud (C) and founder of the Amazon website Jeff Bezos (3rd L) pose for a photo during his visit in in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 9 November 2016. Photo: Getty Images

The United Nations has said it is “gravely concerned” over allegations that Saudi Arabia hacked Amazon (AMZN) and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ mobile phone.

According to an investigation by the Guardian newspaper published on Tuesday, Bezos’s phone was infiltrated in 2018 via a WhatsApp message that came from the number of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The message from the prince reportedly included an infected file that infiltrated his phone, and stole information for months.

Saudi authorities have called the claims “absurd.”

In a statement, independent UN human rights experts Agnes Callamard and David Kaye say the possible involvement of the crown prince in the hacking of Bezos is “an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia.”

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Callamard, UN special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and Kaye, special rapporteur on freedom of expression, called for an immediate investigation by the US and others into the incident.

Amazon boss Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013. The newspaper employed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The Committee to Protect Journalists hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy to mark the anniversary of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photo: Reuters

Khashoggi was killed five months after the Bezos phone hack, which reportedly stole huge amounts of data from the phone within hours and stayed active for months.

Experts told the Guardian that Bezos had probably been targeted because of the Washington Post’s coverage of Saudi Arabia, and Khashoggi’s columns about the crown prince’s crackdown of activists in the kingdom.

The allegations will also ignite the debate about whether the Saudi heir was personally involved in leaking private information about Bezos to the National Enquirer tabloid.

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Bezos revealed that AMI, which owns the National Enquirer, had attempted to blackmail him with intimate photos into dropping his investigation into how it had got access to his text messages — the messages revealed he was having an affair.

A private investigator hired by the Amazon CEO claimed later that Saudi Arabia had hacked his phone.

Bin Salman has repeatedly denied he was behind Khashoggi’s murder.