Poland starts probe into allegations of illegal phone-hacking

Warsaw: A Polish parliamentary commission on Monday began investigating accusations that the previous government illegally hacked the phones of targets including political opponents, amid a growing scandal over the use of Pegasus spyware.

A centrepiece of efforts by the new pro-European administration to uncover the truth about alleged wrongdoing during eight years of nationalist rule, the probe has also taken on a new dimension due to media reports that members of the former ruling party were themselves victims of phone hacking.

If confirmed, such reports could blow apart an opposition that has thus far been united in the defence of its record and the actions of ministers that the new government says broke the law.

The Commission decided on Monday it would call Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, former Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and former Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski to testify.

“We will reveal the truth,” Witold Zembaczynski, a member of the commission and of the largest grouping in the new government, Civic Coalition (KO), told state-run news channel TVP Info. “Our work in the investigative commission will cause not only an earthquake, but also a tsunami.”

Reports in 2021 by the Associated Press that the software, developed by Israel-based NSO Group, was used to hack the phones of government critics, including the head of the election campaign of what was then the largest opposition party, drew accusations that security services eroded democratic norms.

“It was the most anti-democratic behaviour during the electoral process that it is possible to imagine,” said KO lawmaker Jacek Karnowski, himself reportedly a victim of phone hacking.

The new government has set about to overhaul the courts, state media and state-controlled companies in a bid to wipe away what it says are the effects of politicisation and croneyism under PiS.

PiS calls it a political witch-hunt and says it always acted legally.

“In accordance with Polish law, all surveillance must be accepted by a court … I’m sure that every surveillance conducted by secret services was accepted and ordered by court,” former Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said.

However, recent Polish media reports suggested the spyware may have also been used against PiS politicians, news that if proved true could strain lawmakers’ loyalties.

“It seems to me that this may be, unfortunately, a trial by fire that (PiS) won’t necessarily pass,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University.