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Jared Kushner 'should change his phone after Jeff Bezos hack', UN warns

Raf Sanchez
Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman communicated by Whatsapp - AFP

Jared Kushner should change his mobile phone and consult cybersecurity experts because he may have been at risk of being hacked by Mohammed bin Salman in the same way Jeff Bezos was, a UN investigator has warned.

Agnes Callamard, one of two UN special rapporteurs who this week accused the Saudi crown prince of being personally involved in hacking the Amazon founder, said Mr Kushner should urgently take precautions.

"I will hope that Donald Trump's son-in-law and anyone else is at the moment changing their phone, checking their phone and contacting the best cyber security experts so that we can get to the bottom of that hacking strategy and policy," Ms Callamard told CNN.

Boris Johnson is believed to have also communicated with Prince Mohammed over Whatsapp when he was foreign secretary, meaning that his mobile could also have been potentially compromised.

The alleged hacking of Mr Bezos immediately raised concerns that Mr Kushner, a senior White House official with a broad portfolio across foreign and domestic policy, may have been similar targeted by Saudi operatives seeking US government secrets.

Saudi Arabia has strongly denied that the prince was involved in hacking Mr Bezos. The Saudi government did not respond to questions on whether it targeted Mr Kushner.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) and the kingdom's trade and investment minister, Majed bin Abdullah al-Kassabi (L), posing with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (3rd L) during the latter's visit to Riyadh Credit: BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AFP via Getty Images

Mr Kushner, 39, and Prince Mohammed, 34, first met in March 2017 and the powerful young officials appear to have struck up a friendship and stayed in touch over Whatsapp.

US officials were reportedly alarmed that Mr Kushner, who had no previous government experience, was communicating with the Saudi prince through private channels without oversight by American diplomats.

Mr Kushner joined the White House staff in 2017 but US intelligence was reluctant to give him top-level security clearance. The reasons are unclear but it may be related to foreign investment in his family’s real estate business.

Mr Trump eventually overruled intelligence officials and reportedly ordered that his son-in-law be given access to top secret intelligence in May 2018, a year and a half after he began work at the White House.

Prince Mohammed is alleged to have sent Mr Bezos a video file infected with spyware that same month.

Separately, a Saudi Arabian dissident who claims to have been a victim of hacking is suing his government at the High Court in London, in a rare case against the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October 2018 Credit: Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images

Ghanem Almasarir, a satirist who has been living under police protection, alleges that had his phone hacked after criticising the Saudi royal family on social media in 2018. Mr Almasarir, 39, who was put under protection following the murder in Istanbul of fellow dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reported unusual activity on his phones shortly after.

His phones were later analysed by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which tracks the use of cyberweapons and allegedly confirmed that he had been sent malicious texts that were “associated” with spyware.

His lawyers at Leigh Day law firm said the decision by the High Court to allow them to serve the claim against Riyadh showed he had an “arguable” and legitimate case. He has previously described allegations of intimidation against him, including attempts to lure him back to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr Almasarir, who has lived in London since 2003, said: “For years it has seemed like the Saudi regime cannot be touched by the legal system but finally I have the opportunity to hold them to account in a fair and independent court of law and hopefully see justice served.

“I hope this latest development gives confidence to others who have been targeted in the same way by the regime that they can fight back.”

Martyn Day, of the firm Leigh Day, said: “This is a rare case brought in this country against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are pleased that the court has agreed that given the circumstances in this case, the targeting of an individual while he was living in the UK, they are prepared to enable us to serve the formal proceedings on the Saudi Government.”

US intelligence urged the UK to keep a protective eye on Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, after becoming aware of a Saudi plot to surveil her while she was on British soil, according to the Guardian

The US reportedly believed that Saudi intelligence was trying to monitor her during a trip to London last year but it is not clear if the plan was ever carried out.