Amaravati: In a controversial statement, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had purchased the Pegasus spyware during his tenure. The TDP has denied her allegations.
Ms. Banerjee said that around five years ago, her government was offered to sell the Israeli spyware for just Rs. 25 crore, which she had turned down.
Pegasus is state-of-the-art spyware that allows users access a target's smartphone through zero-click exploit. The Pegasus user can access the device's camera, messages, and all other data stored on it. Ms. Banerjee said that NSO, the company that developed the spyware, had approached everybody to sell their ware but she told them she did not require it. "If it was used for the benefit of the country or for security reasons then it was a different matter, but it has been used for political purposes, against judges, officers," she said.
Responding to Ms. Banerjee's allegations, TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh said, "We have never purchased any spyware. We never indulged in any illegal phone tapping." Lokesh, who was the minister for Information Technology in his father's Cabinet, added, "I don't know whether she has indeed said that, and where and in which context. If she did say that, she is certainly misinformed. Chandrababu Naidu would never indulge in such illegal acts."
He admitted that Pegasus had offered to sell its spyware to the AP government but it had rejected it. Had the government purchased the spyware, there would be a record of it, he pointed out. "If there had been any such thing, would the (current) Jagan regime have spared us? In the last three years, they have tried every trick to fix us in one thing or the other but failed because we did nothing wrong. If indeed we had Pegasus, would Jagan have gone scot-free for all his atrocious acts?" Lokesh asked.
He further said that the RTI reply by former DGP Gautham Sawang's office was a clear vindication of the previous TDP government regarding the Pegasus software allegations. Lokesh said the DGP's office had clarified on 12 August 2021 that the AP government had "never procured" Pegasus.
This was in reply to an RTI application dated 25 July 2021 by Nagendra Prasad, a resident of Yemmiganur in the Kurnool district. Lokesh said the RTI application had asked for details of the sanction letter for procuring Pegasus spyware, the office where it was installed, and officers in charge of it. In a single sentence reply, former DGP Gautam Sawang's office had said the state had "never procured such software".