The Pegasus case he has claimed his first detainee in Mexico. The Attorney General’s Office (FGR) arrested Juan Carlos García, a member of the company Proyectos y Diseños VME, on November 1, for his “probable responsibility in the commission of the crime of illegal intervention of communications aggravated to the detriment of a journalist, using software publicly known as Pegasus”, as announced by the institution this Monday. Although the FGR does not make explicit in the statement who the journalist is, in a previous report thanked the reporter Carmen Aristegui, who was a victim of espionage, for her “complaint and permanent participation”. An Amnesty International investigation and Forbidden Stories It uncovered last July that fifty governments around the world spied on more than 50,000 activists, journalists, and political dissidents, through this software designed by NSO Group, an Israeli cyber intelligence and security company.
Mexico was the country with the most potential targets, more than 15,000 people targeted by the spy program, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his family. Most of the contracts were signed by the government of the PAN Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), but it was during the presidential term of Enrique Peña Nieto, a member of the PRI, (2012-2018) when it worked most intensely Pegasus in the country. García was employed in those years by Proyectos y Diseños VM, one of the companies that Santiago Nieto, director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), pointed out as part of a network of companies that was in charge of acquiring the software and then commercializing it with public entities. Among them, the Center for Research and National Security, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of National Defense or the defunct Attorney General of the Republic. This is attested by a dozen contracts disseminated by the Network in Defense of Digital Rights, which link VME Projects and Designs both with NSO Group and with public bodies.
García was arrested in Querétaro and transferred “immediately” to Mexico City, where he was placed at the disposal of a judge at the Federal Criminal Justice Center of the South Reclusorio. On the same day of his arrest, he was accused of having used the software to spy on a journalist’s phone, with the aggravation of “affecting, limiting and undermining her freedom of expression.” The judge has given the FGR investigators four months to continue with the investigations in this regard. During that time, García will remain in prison as a precautionary measure, since the institution considers an attempted escape from the country probable, and in view of “the risks that it represents for public safety and those related to the process.”
Pegasus it works like a virus, which once installed on a device, allows the user to access their calendar, photos, camera or saved files. Due to its implications, NSO Group has always defended that it only markets its software to governments, as a support measure in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. However, the FGR considers that at least one company, KBH Track, functioned as an operator in Mexico for the Israeli company. A hard drive was recovered from KBH Track that “fully demonstrates that said maquiladora company carried out telephone espionage for various applicants who have not yet been fully identified for judicial purposes,” according to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office.
The director of the FIU, during a conference on July 21, 2021, provided a broader list of collaborators of the Israeli company, which included a dozen front companies. Among them, Grupo Tech Bull, the person in charge of the contract of which the most is known so far, valued at 32 million dollars, or VME Projects and Designs, to which the detainee belonged. The company that García worked for was also pointed out by the Secretary of Security, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, on July 28, according to the agency EFE. That day, Rodríguez denounced that there were 31 contracts related to NSO Group and Pegasus between 2011 and 2018 – during the Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto governments – amounting to 1,970 million pesos. The company was among those papers.
The UIF investigation considers that, in the Mexican case, the Pegasus acquisition also constituted a process of diversion of public funds, through which the invoices of the companies involved would have increased, especially during the Peña Nieto administration. Businesses form a complex web of business relationships, subsidiaries, and relationships of various kinds, designed to make it difficult to track them. They have been linked to the case since 2014, when the Attorney General’s Office signed a contract for the acquisition of the software for more than 32 million dollars. The document, signed by Tomás Zerón, former Head of Investigation of the organization and today a fugitive from justice in Israel for his alleged responsibility in the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, was released years later, in 2017, when the investigation into the software.
The arrest of García – a figure on the other hand unknown until now – constitutes the first advance in the investigation, which until now had only succeeded in the case of one of the espionage victims, journalist Carmen Aristegui, thanks to her own testimony of the reporter and the data she has provided through a former KBH Track worker. On the table are still the names, still without formal accusations, of those responsible for the public bodies that used the software: Generals Salvador Cienfuegos and Guillermo Galván, heads of Defense during the past six-year terms; the Secretary of the Interior of Peña Nieto, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong; the Attorney General of the Republic between 2012 and 2015, Jesús Murillo Karam; Zerón, or the former presidents themselves.
Subscribe here to newsletter of EL PAÍS México and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of this country
#Espionage #Pegasus #case #Mexico #claims #detainee