NSO Distances Itself From Mexico Suspect

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern town of Sapir. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

The Israeli spyware firm NSO Group distanced itself Tuesday from a Mexican businessman who was arrested on charges he used the Pegasus spyware to spy on a journalist.

Federal prosecutors announced the arrest on Monday, but did not name the suspect under rules aimed at protecting presumption of innocence.

A federal official not authorized to be quoted by name has said the suspect is Juan Carlos García Rivera, who has been linked to the company Proyectos y Diseños VME and Grupo KBH. He was detained on Nov. 1.

In a statement from the NSO Group’s press office, the company said, “The person reported arrested is not, and never was, an employee of NSO Group, or any of its affiliates.”

In fact, the suspect has long been described in Mexico as an employee of a firm that acted as an intermediary in the spyware purchases.

In July, Mexico’s top security official said two previous administrations spent $61 million to buy Pegasus spyware. The two companies the suspect was linked to were allegedly parties to some of the contracts.

Leopoldo Maldonado, of the press freedom group Article 19, described García Rivera as “a technical employee of a private company that was an intermediary for NSO in Mexico, and benefitted from illegal spying on public figures.”

The NSO Group has been implicated in government surveillance of opponents and journalists around the world. The company said “NSO’s technologies are only sold to vetted and approved government entities.”

Mexico had the largest list — about 15,000 phone numbers — among more than 50,000 reportedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.