Poland’s chief auditor seeks to question leader over espionage


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s chief auditor said Tuesday he plans to launch an audit into state oversight of the secret service following revelations of illegal surveillance by government critics with powerful spyware.

Marian Banas, president of the Supreme Audit Office, an independent institution responsible for ensuring that public funds are spent properly, spoke before a Senate committee investigating the use of Pegasus, a spyware program produced by the group Israeli NSO.

“Given recent events related to state and citizen security, I have made the decision to initiate immediate and urgent monitoring of state surveillance over the Secret Service,” Banas said.

He said he planned to call Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s right-wing ruling party and deputy prime minister for security, as a witness to testify under penalty of perjury.

“He should answer questions about illegal and mass surveillance of Polish women and men,” Banas said. He said that if Kaczynski was summoned, the law would require him to appear.

Kaczynski, the country’s most powerful politician, acknowledged last week that Poland bought Pegasus, describing it as an important tool in fighting serious crime.

His admission came after the Associated Press reported in late December that the Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto research group, had found forensic traces of a Pegasus hack on the phones of a Polish senator, a lawyer and a prosecutor – all three critics of the government.

The revelations shocked many Poles as Pegasus was intended to be used by governments to fight terrorism and serious crime. It gives its operators full access to a mobile device, allowing them to extract passwords, photos, messages, contacts and browsing history and activate the microphone and camera for eavesdropping in real time.

The Gazeta Wyborcza daily and the TVN television channel reported that the government had secretly bought Pegasus for the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a secret service controlled by the ruling party, using a Justice Ministry fund earmarked for victims of crime and the rehabilitation of criminals.

Banas said his office determined that the ABC’s operations were illegally funded with 25 million zlotys ($6.3 million) from the Justice Fund, confirming evidence uncovered by Polish journalists.

Under Polish law, the CBA can only be financed from the state budget. Banas added that “today we can boldly say” that the 25 million zlotys were used for Pegasus.

Banas spoke on the second day of Senate hearings. On Monday, Polish senators heard testimony from two Citizen Lab experts who last month confirmed the hack in Poland.

Banas was appointed for a six-year term by the ruling party in 2019, but has since become one of its main opponents, launching inspections against government officials.

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