SPAIN’S prime minister and defence minister were targeted by the same spyware found to have hacked dozens of pro-independence Catalan figures, the Spanish government has claimed.

In a press conference on Monday morning, Spanish presidency minister Félix Bolaños said that the hacking of phones belonging to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and defence minister Margarita Robles using the Pegasus spyware was “external and illicit”, adding: "We want the judiciary to investigate so we can find out the truth, which is why we have made all of this information available.”

According to the new revelations, the prime minister was targeted on two separate occasions in May 2021, during which 2.6GB and 130MB of data were retrieved respectively, while Robles was targeted the following month, at which time 9MB were accessed. There have been no details thus far as to the nature of hacked information.

The announcement comes amidst mounting controversy over what has become known as Catalangate, following revelations from the Canada-based human rights research group the Citizen Lab that two forms of spyware were used against over 60 pro-independence Catalan politicians, activists and civil society figures, in what the New Yorker magazine described as “the largest forensically documented cluster of such attacks and infections on record".

The Spanish government’s claims also follow the first lawsuits against NSO Group, the Israeli developer of the Pegasus spyware, by the Catalan civil society organisation Omnium and several members of the left-wing pro-independence CUP party.

The Omnium lawsuit has called for a European Investigation Order into the NSO Group’s financial statements in Luxembourg and seeks to determine whether any agencies of the Spanish state were involved in the espionage.

Meanwhile, the suit filed by CUP politicians Carles Riera and Albert Botran, as well as CUP activist David Fernàndez, argues that Spain’s National Intelligence Centre, along with the Spanish police and the Civil Guard, should also be held responsible.   

NSO Group has said in a statement that it will investigate “any suspicion of misuse” of its software, and will cooperate with any governmental investigation, with a spokesperson adding: “While we have not seen any information related to this alleged misuse and we are not familiar with the details of this specific case, NSO’s firm stance on these issues is that the use of cyber tools in order to monitor politicians, dissidents, activists and journalists is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools.”