SAN FRANCISCO/CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon’s billionaire boss Jeff Bezos, United Nations experts said on Wednesday.
The U.N. special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said they had information pointing to the “possible involvement” of the prince in the alleged 2018 cyberattack. Saudi officials have dismissed the allegations as absurd.
Cybersecurity experts hired by Bezos, the world’s richest man, concluded his phone was probably infiltrated by a video file sent from a WhatsApp account purportedly belonging to Prince Mohammed in 2018, according to a person familiar with the matter.
They said the device began leaking massive amounts of data about a month afterwards, the source said.
Callamard, the special rapporteur for extra-judicial killings, and Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, said the allegation of Saudi involvement “demands immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities”.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud dismissed the allegations on Wednesday.
“I think ‘absurd’ is exactly the right word,” he told Reuters in an interview in Davos. “The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly.”
The allegations could nonetheless further damage relations between tech tycoon Bezos and Riyadh, and risk harming the kingdom’s reputation with foreign powers and investors.
The alleged cyberattack is said to have taken place months before the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Prince Mohammed, or MbS, said last year that the killing was carried out by rogue operatives and that he did not order it.
In another previous flashpoint, Bezos’ security chief said last year that the Saudi government had gained access to the Amazon CEO’s phone and leaked messages to U.S. tabloid the National Enquirer between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who the newspaper said he was dating.
A month before, Bezos had accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez.
The Saudi government has denied having anything to do with the National Enquirer reporting.
The Guardian first reported the crown prince’s alleged involvement in a phone hacking plot on Bezos.
Saudi Arabia’s U.S. embassy also dismissed the allegations.
“We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out,” it said in a message posted on Twitter.
Amazon (AMZN.O) declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, Kevin Krolicki in Davos and Raphael Satter in Washington; Writing by Pravin Char; Editing by Mike Collett-White