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Spanish prime minister's mobile phone infected by Pegasus spyware, govt says

MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish authorities have detected "Pegasus" spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles, the government minister for the presidency, Felix Bolanos, said on Monday.

Bolanos told a news conference Sanchez's phone was infected in May 2021 and at least one data leak occurred then. He did not say who could have been spying on the premier or whether foreign or Spanish groups were suspected of being behind it.

"The interventions were illicit and external. External means carried out by non-official bodies and without state authorisation," he said, adding that the infections had been reported to the justice ministry, and the High Court would be in charge of the case.

The announcement followed intense pressure on the leftist coalition government to explain itself after Canada's digital rights group Citizen Lab said more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of "Pegasus" spyware made by Israel's NSO Group.

After the allegations of spying on members of the Catalan separatist movement, the minority government's key ally in parliament, Catalonia's leftist pro-independence party ERC, said it would not support the government until Madrid takes measures to restore confidence.

Pere Aragones, the separatist Catalan regional president, said on Monday in a statement: "When the mass surveillance is against the Catalan independence movement, we only hear silence and excuses. Today everything is done in a hurry.

"But the double standard here is clear. It seems that against the independence movement anything is accepted."

The European Union's data watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, additional reporting Andrei Khalip, Belen Carreno; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Toby Chopra)