Jeff Bezos: UN calls for probe into claims Saudi crown prince hacked Amazon CEO's phone

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By Lauren Chadwick
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (L), Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R)
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (L), Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R)   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lefteris Pitaraki and AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool

UN experts have called for an immediate probe into claims Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was the victim of a hack from a phone number used by Saudi Arabia's crown prince.

Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, received a message from a WhatsApp account connected to Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which contained an encrypted video file that infected his phone with malicious code, the UN experts said in a statement.

The Saudi embassy in the US called the allegations "absurd".

Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, both UN special rapporteurs appointed by the Human Rights Council, said the malicious software was sent to Bezos' phone "in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia".

At the time of the hack, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi had written critically of Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince, Callamard and Kaye said, providing a timeline of editorial articles published by the journalist.

Khashoggi was later murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018.

Read more: Jamal Khashoggi: Experts dismiss Saudi Arabia's sentences over killing

The hack allegedly occurred in May 2018 months after Bezos exchanged WhatsApp numbers with the crown prince at a dinner in Los Angeles.

The forensic analysis — conducted by global cybersecurity firm FTI consulting — found that the cellular data output of the phone increased by 29,156% after Bezos received the video file from the Crown Prince's WhatsApp account and concluded that Bezos' phone was likely hacked by "a prominent spyware product".

"That investigation was linked to an FBI investigation and was therefore conducted under the most robust and stringent conditions," Callamard told Euronews.

The Saudi embassy in the US called the hacking allegations and forensic analysis, which were first revealed yesterday by media outlets, "absurd".

The UN expert on freedom of expression, David Kaye, said the experts were raising their concerns as part of standard operating procedures and that they often receive information related to serious human rights violations.

Callamard, the UN's Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, investigated the murder into Jamal Khashoggi and had concluded that the "extrajudicial execution" would have required "significant government coordination, resources and finances".

On Wednesday, Callamard and Kaye said the hacking allegations were "relevant" to "ongoing evaluation of claims" of the Crown Prince's "involvement" in Khashoggi's murder.

Watch Euronews' interview with UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard

Update: This story has been clarified to reflect the specific spyware used is not yet known.