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Direkt36: Former State Secretary of Orbán Gov’t Also on Pegasus Spyware’s List of Targets

Hungary Today 2021.07.23.

Former state secretary, Attila Aszódi, could be another potential target of Pegasus, surveillance software created by Israeli company NSO Group to hack and monitor the activities of their targets, Direkt36 reports.

The phone number of Attila Aszódi, the former state secretary responsible for the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, can also be found on the leaked list of phone numbers that contain the potential surveillance targets of the powerful Israeli spyware “Pegasus.”

According to the Hungarian investigative and whistleblower platform Direkt36, whose journalists collaborated in the investigation of the recently revealed Pegasus scandal, Attila Aszódi’s phone number used for his official work-related calls became a target at the end of 2018.

Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists
Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists

"Hungary is a democratic state governed by the rule of law, and as such, when it comes to any individual it has always acted and continues to act in accordance with the law in force," the government said.Continue reading

The former state secretary is one of the most respected nuclear energy experts in Hungary. In the third Orbán administration, he became a key player in one of the biggest Hungarian investments in past decades, the much-criticized expansion of the country’s sole nuclear power plant located in Paks.

Following Hungary’s agreement in 2014 that the plant will be expanded by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom, with financing also from a credit line from Russia, Aszódi was appointed as the government commissioner responsible for the expansion.

In 2017, the supervision of the project changed and János Süli, former CEO of the nuclear power station, was appointed Minister without Portfolio responsible for the expansion. However, Aszódi continued to participate in the government’s work from that point onward as Süli’s state secretary.

Gov’t Neither Denies nor Confirms Use of Pegasus Spyware
Gov’t Neither Denies nor Confirms Use of Pegasus Spyware

Justice Minister Judit Varga emphasized that Hungary's secret service acts completely in accordance with the rule of law, under the oversight of the National Security Council.Continue reading

But in 2018 conflict between the two politicians started growing. According to press reports, the reason for the antagonism was due to the Russian side which was pushing for the premature start of the expansion’s construction work even before the final plans were to be submitted to the Hungarian authorities. Aszódi was strongly opposed to the idea, while Süli was more amenable.

The state secretary was finally dismissed from his post in January 2019, which later in an interview he said took him by surprise. Attila Aszódi declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Direkt36.

As Direkt36 mentions, the fact that Aszódi’s number is on the list does not automatically mean that it was actually monitored. To confirm the presence of spyware or its traces, the phone needs to be scanned by a specialized laboratory, which has not happened in Aszódi’s case, as he had to return the device after his dismissal in 2019.

Gov’t Officials Either Dismiss or Avoid Hungary's Pegasus Scandal
Gov’t Officials Either Dismiss or Avoid Hungary's Pegasus Scandal

Justice Minister Varga said that every kind of suspicion on information gathering needs to be investigated, while state secretary Kovács says the international scandal is a fabrication to attack PM Orbán.Continue reading

The former state secretary is not the first government official whose activity may have been monitored by Pegasus, as former State Secretary of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, Balázs Weingartner’s phone number was also found on the list.

Reacting to the news, János Stummer, the Jobbik chairman of the National Security Committee, wrote that he will also invite János Süli, the minister responsible for the Paks expansion, to the Monday meeting of the committee, which has been called by the opposition parties because of the Pegasus scandal.

In the featured photo: former state secretary Attila Aszódi. Photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI