Saudi Arabia hacked the phone of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, to gain access to his personal data, said an investigator.
Bezos hired Gavin De Becker to look into the release by US tabloid National Enquirer of leaked text messages and photos.
“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” De Becker wrote on The Daily Beast website on Saturday.
De Becker linked the hack to extensive coverage by The Washington Post newspaper, which is owned by Bezos, of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last year.
“It’s clear that MBS considers The Washington Post to be a major enemy,” De Becker wrote, referring to the oil-rich kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the US Senate, after a closed-door briefing by the CIA, named as “responsible” for the murder.
Washington Post owner accuses US tabloid of ‘blackmail’ 3:03
Saudi Arabia has stressed that the crown prince was not involved in the killing of Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist.
Riyadh initially said it had no knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, but later blamed the murder on rogue Saudi agents.
Demands and blackmail
Last month, Bezos accused the National Enquirer’s owner of “extortion and blackmail” with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” of Bezos and his mistress unless he said in public that the tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated and halted the investigation.
De Becker said the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc. (AMI), had privately demanded that he deny finding any evidence of “electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news gathering process”.
An eight-page AMI contract sent to Bezos and De Becker also wanted an acknowledgment that their Bezos story was not “instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise”.
“As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details,” De Becker wrote.
A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately return a request for comment.
In February, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs said Saudi Arabia had “absolutely nothing to do” with the National Enquirer’s reporting on the affair.
A representative for AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. AMI has previously said that it acted lawfully in the reporting of Bezos’ story.
De Becker did not specify which part of the Saudi government he was blaming for the hack, and gave few details about the investigation that led him to the conclusion that the kingdom was responsible.
The results, he wrote, “have been turned over to federal officials”.
Bezos has been repeatedly criticised by US President Donald Trump over his newspaper, The Washington Post, and its coverage of his presidency.
In a Medium blog post last month, Bezos pointed to AMI’s CEO David Pecker’s previous cooperation with Trump, including payments made to suppress negative stories, currently under investigation by federal prosecutors.
Al Jazeera and news agencies