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Direkt36: Member of the Metropolitan Electoral Commission Also on Pegasus Surveillance List

Péter Cseresnyés 2022.01.29.

László Vértesy, a lawyer who has been a member of the Metropolitan Electoral Commission for years and before the 2018 parliamentary election was helping the opposition party Jobbik, has also been one of the Hungarian targets of Pegasus spyware, a new report by Direkt36 reveals. 

The lawyer, who teaches at the University of Public Service (NKE), was formerly a researcher at the pro-Fidesz Századvég Foundation, and he was the owner and manager of a company called the Civitas Institute, which helped Jobbik before the parliamentary elections in 2018. He has also been a member of the Metropolitan Electoral Commission since 2014, which oversees the legality of the elections.

According to the investigative and whistleblower outlet, two of Vértesy’s phone numbers are part of the leaked database of more than 50,000 numbers containing targets selected by foreign clients of NSO Group, the Israeli company that manufactures the Pegasus spyware.

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The investigative journalists could not confirm whether Vértesy was actually hacked, but as they recall, for other Pegasus targets on the leaked list, forensic analyses have shown in a number of cases that spyware had indeed infected the targets’ devices.

Direkt36 contacted Vértesy but he declined to answer their questions, so they couldn’t analyze any of his phones. Although the lawyer refused to answer Direkt36’s questions, some of his acquaintances were willing to do so. One of them said that even Vértesy did not understand why he might have become a Pegasus target.

The government did not respond to Direkt36’s questions about targeting Vértesy.

The lawyer’s name and phone number were added to the list of targets in the autumn of 2018, but according to Direkt36, nothing happened to him at that time that could easily explain why he became a target. His institute was no longer active during this period, and Vértesy did not have a close relationship with Jobbik anymore.

Direkt36 also notes that although current laws allow any employee of NKE to be subjected to so-called “due diligence” inquiries, in which surveillance techniques can also be used, this rule was only introduced in 2021. So, it was not yet in force when Vértesy became a target.

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If Vértesy was indeed under surveillance, it is also possible that the users of the spyware wanted information about him from an earlier period. Pegasus gives access to all information that is already on the phone: emails, messages, photos, videos, and voice recordings from months or even years before.

The Pegasus scandal hit headlines last July when a team of international journalists uncovered a database of 50,000 phone numbers selected for monitoring by the customers of NSO, the company that developed the spyware. The collaborative investigation was run by 17 news outlets, including The Washington Post, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and The Guardian. From Hungary, investigative online outlet Direkt36 was the only participant, reporting 300 Hungarian phone numbers that were possibly targeted in 2018 and 2019 for surveillance. Phone numbers of several Hungarian journalists, businessmen, critics of the government, public figures, and politicians all appeared among those selected for targeting. The trails lead directly to the Hungarian state, because the software’s manufacturer, Israeli private corporation, NSO Group, can only provide its product to national governments and government agencies with the permission of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The Hungarian government never clearly acknowledged the purchase and use of the spyware, only emphasizing that all surveillance in Hungary is in-line with the relevant regulations, and authorities observe the rule of law. However, senior [governing] Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa publicly acknowledged that the Orbán government had acquired and used the Israeli tool.

Featured photo illustration via pixabay.com


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