United Nations experts on Wednesday called for an immediate investigation by the United States and others into the “possible involvement” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hacking of Amazon billionaire and media proprietor Jeff Bezos’ phone in 2018, AP reported. A timeline given by the experts showed that Salman possibly knew about Bezos’ extra-marital affair with a TV host even before it became public.
On Tuesday, The Guardian reported, citing unidentified people, that Bezos’ phone was hacked on May 1, 2018, after receiving a WhatsApp video from the Saudi crown prince during a friendly conversation between the two men. Large amounts of data were taken from Bezos’ phone within hours. The results of a digital forensic analysis suggested a malicious file had infiltrated Bezos’ phone, and that it was “highly probable” that the file had triggered the phone hacking.
According to the timeline given by the UN experts, on November 8, 2018, Bezos received on WhatsApp the photograph of a woman “resembling” the one with whom he was having an affair, from the Crown Prince’s WhatsApp account, “along with a sardonic caption”. This was two months before the affair was publicly known. It became public days after Bezos’ divorce in January 2019, when the tabloid National Enquirer carried reports about text messages hinting at the affair.
National Enquirer’s owner has ties to the Saudi crown prince and has previously published pro-Saudi news coverage, according to AP. Weeks after the tabloid published the private messages, Bezos accused the publication of making an “extortionate proposal” to not publish his intimate photos – the media company allegedly wanted him to falsely state in public that its coverage was not politically motivated. The company was allegedly using blackmail to stop Bezos from carrying out an investigation into how it had got access to the text messages.
Bezos owns The Washington Post, which was publishing critical coverage about Saudi Arabia at that time in the wake of the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly with personal involvement of the crown prince.
“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the UN experts said in a statement. “At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr [Jamal] Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post.”
The experts reviewed the digital forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone, which they said was made available to them as UN special rapporteurs. The experts are appointed by the world body but operate independently.
The rapporteurs said the analysis found that within hours of receiving a video there was “an anomalous and extreme change” in the device’s behaviour, with the level of outgoing data from the phone jumping nearly 300-fold.
Saudi officials rejected the allegations as “absurd”. The Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday called for investigation on these claims.