Israeli spyware tool ‘used to trace fugitive Princess Latifa’

Will Pavia, The Times
July 22, 2021

A spyware tool developed by an Israeli security company might have been used to trace an Emirati princess who tried to flee her father’s kingdom.

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum was recaptured by commandos in a yacht off the coast of India. She fled from Dubai with Tiina Jauhiainen, a fitness instructor she had become friends with, on February 24, 2018.

They drove to Oman, boarded a dinghy then used jet skis to catch a yacht that was to take them to Sri Lanka.

Commandos stormed the yacht off the coast of Goa. A fact-finding judgment in 2019 by Sir Andrew McFarlane, of the High Court, found that as the princess was dragged away she was heard to shout: “Shoot me here, don’t take me back.”

It now appears that a phone-hacking tool called Pegasus, developed by the Israeli company NSO, may have been used to track the movements of her friends.

The Washington Post reported that the phone numbers for the princess and her friends were added to a list of devices targeted for surveillance using Pegasus in the hours after she went missing.

The research group Citizen Lab was said to have identified the United Arab Emirates as a client of NSO. The newspaper quoted an unnamed source who said that NSO had terminated its contract with Dubai in the past year after it learnt of the surveillance, along with other potential abuses.

NSO has said that the list of numbers was “not a list of potential targets of NSO’s customers” and to suggest that people on the list were targets was “false and misleading”. The princess has since been able to leave Dubai.