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Direkt36: Media Owner Páva’s Surveillance Began After Working Contract with Opposition Party was Published

Ábrahám Vass 2021.09.13.

Government-critical news portal Ezalényeg‘s current publisher, former MSZP politician Zoltán Páva’s surveillance with Pegasus could potentially be related to one of his companies working for Democratic Coalition (DK), according to fresh findings by Direkt36.hu. Páva’s surveillance began on the same day when a contract between one of his companies and the leftist opposition party had been confirmed.

In reference to Direkt36, we reported last week that Páva could have been under surveillance through Israeli spyware Pegasus for weeks earlier this year. This new information has had special relevance also because previous reporting on the case only showed the use of the program for Hungarian targets in 2018 and 2019. But Páva’s case actually means that it has been in use in the country as recently as a few months ago.

Direkt36: Opposition Media Owner Also Surveilled by Pegasus Spyware
Direkt36: Opposition Media Owner Also Surveilled by Pegasus Spyware

It is unclear what data the attackers extracted from Zoltán Páva's smartphone, but they had access to everything.Continue reading

According to this recently-published data, Páva’s smartphone was hacked with the software on March 16th, the same day when the parliament’s website published that EagleEye-Marketing Kft. (Páva’s company) signed a contract with opposition DK’s parliamentary faction for social media consulting. On behalf of the company, the contract was actually signed by Páva himself.

Páva earlier said that he didn’t understand the timing of the surveillance, as nothing special happened at the time. In fact, he recalled that it was precisely on March 16th that he began experiencing covid symptoms, as a consequence of which, he only participated in low-scale online meetings afterwards.

In addition, he didn’t regard the contract as a potential trigger, as they had broken the deal at the end of the previous year, and on January 1st they had started working accordingly.

However, DK’s party director, László Sebián-Petrovszki, revealed to Direkt36 that the reason why the contract details were posted on parliament’s website later was that every year they can only do so after the Parliamentary Office finishes the financial closure of the parliamentary groups for the previous year.

The Pegasus scandal broke out in 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 PostSüddeutsche 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 to be surveilled.

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.

Also, a former security officer from one of Hungary’s intelligence services told Direkt36 that according to his knowledge, Hungarian services started using Pegasus in 2018. A former employee of NSO also confirmed to one of the project’s partners that Hungary indeed procured the Pegasus software.

The Orbán administration has not denied the use of Pegasus, nor did they deny the surveillance of the people the news site has reported about.

featured image: Zoltán Páva in 2012; via Ferenc Kálmándy/MTI