Former CBI chief Alok Verma, industrialist Anil Ambani targeted using Pegasus: Report

Their phone numbers were part of the leaked database accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with an international media consortium

Former CBI chief Alok Verma (left) and Anil Ambani. Credit: PTI/Reuters file photos

Industrialist Anil Ambani and his close aide Tony Jesudasan figure were added to a list of potential targets for surveillance using controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus at a time the controversial Rafale deal started attracting allegations of corruption involving Narendra Modi government. The names of former CBI chief Alok Verma and his bete noire Rakesh Asthana, an IPS officer who heads BSF, as well as officials of Dassault Aviation, which manufactures Rafale, and Boeing also figure in the list.

Their phone numbers were part of the leaked database accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with an international media consortium, which include Washington Post, The Guardian and The Wire.

Read | NSO flagged 'misuse risk' before Pegasus row erupted

The Wire report said the phone numbers of Ambani and Jesudasan and his wife were added to the list for surveillance in 2018 when the Rafale deal come under scanner. Narendra Modi government's decisio to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft came under scrutiny at that time.

Interestingly, the phone number of Venkata Rao Posina, the India representative of Dassault Aviation, which makes Rafale also figures in the list. Dassault was in the eye of the controversy following allegations that it chose Anil Ambani's Reliance ADA Group as its offset partner due to pressure from the Indian government.

The Wire report said former Saab India head Inderjit Sial and Boeing India boss Pratyush Kumar also figure in the list.

According to the report, there are at least two government officials worked in the defence space were also on the leaked list implying that there was a certain focus on the defence sector and perhaps the aircraft deal.

One of the two officials is an officer of the Indian Defence Accounts Services while the other is Prashant Sukul, who in 2018 was a bureaucrat handling offsets at the defence ministry, it said.

Harmanjit Negi, head of the French firm energy EDF who was a member of Emmanuel Macron’s official delegation during the French president’s visit to India, is also in the list.

In former CBI Director Verma's case, his phone was added to the list for surveillance, hours after he was removed as CBI Director on 23 October, 2018.

Along with Verma, the report said, the personal numbers of his wife, daughter and son-in-law were also placed on the list, making it a total of eight numbers from this one family.

Asthana, who is considered close to Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, and another CBI official AK Sharma were also in the list on the same day Verma's number was added.

The report also said, by the second week of February 2019, by which time Verma had finally retired from government service, this entire cluster of persons ceased being of interest to the government agency which had added them to the list.

Eight of those phones were forensically confirmed by Amnesty International’s tech lab to have been successfully compromised by Pegasus, while two other phones showed signs of being targeted.

According to the report, along with Verma, the personal telephone numbers of his wife, daughter and son-in-law were eventually placed on the list too. In addition, the numbers of two other senior CBI officials, Rakesh Asthana and A K Sharma, were added to the list as well.

However, by the time Verma retired from service in February 2019, the persons ceased being of interest to the government agency which had added them to the list, the report added.