The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said that it did not have any information on the Pegasus spyware controversy, reported PTI.
“The alleged matter that has been referred to is under investigation by a committee set up by the Supreme Court,” the ministry’s spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. “No information is available with the Ministry of External Affairs on this matter.”
Bagchi was responding to questions on a January 28 The New York Times report that India had purchased the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a $2-billion (now around Rs 14.96 thousand crore) defence package. The military-grade spyware and a “missile system” were the “centrepieces” of the package, the newspaper had said.
The use of Pegasus by several countries had come to light in July last year after several media organisations had reported about it. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on through Pegasus.
The New York Times had also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in 2017. It had reported that ties between Modi and then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “warmed” because of the $2-billion agreement.
On Modi’s visit, Bagchi said on Thursday that various MoUs were signed between the two countries, the details of which were publicly available.
Among Pegasus’ potential targets were many Indian Opposition leaders, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, The Wire founders Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu and even the former Supreme Court staffer who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
More than 40 journalists and activists were also on the list.
Speaking in Parliament on July 19, Vaishnaw had dismissed reports about the use of Pegasus to spy on journalists, activists and Opposition leaders. He had said that with checks and balances in place, illegal surveillance was not possible in India. Vaishnaw had also alleged that the report was an attempt to malign the “Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.
After the first reports about Pegasus came out, the matter was brought up by the Opposition in Parliament. Leaders had protested vociferously and pleas were filed in the Supreme Court against the government.
The court had set up a panel to look into the allegations. The court-appointed committee is conducting an inquiry into the matter.