PARIS: Prosecutors in Paris said Tuesday that they had opened a probe into allegations that Moroccan intelligence services used the Israeli surveillance software Pegasus to spy on several French journalists.
The investigation will examine 10 different charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and criminal association.
Investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint on Monday over the spying claims, which Morocco has denied, and the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine has said it plans to do so as well.
A collaborative investigation by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and other media outlets, based on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers, claimed Monday that spying worldwide using the technology from the NSO Group had been far more extensive than previously thought.
Mediapart revealed that the phones of its founder Edwy Plenel and one of its journalists were among those targeted by Moroccan intelligence services.
In an article published Monday, it said that Morocco had "violated the privacy of two journalists, undermined the profession of informing people and the freedom of the media, stolen and exploited personal and professional data."
Around 30 journalists and bosses in the French media were allegedly targeted by Moroccan security services, including employees of Le Monde, Le Figaro, France Televisions and Agence France-Presse, Le Monde reported.
Morocco denied the claims, saying it "never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices."
The country ranks 136 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, and journalists there "continue to be subjected to judicial harassment," according to the Reporters without Borders media freedom group.
Journalists reporting on the ruling monarchy, corruption or events in the disputed Western Sahara region are known to face particular scrutiny.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told French public radio that "these are extremely shocking acts and, if proven, are extremely serious."
He said that France was "extremely attached to press freedom" and that any attempt to curtail journalists' freedom to report was "very serious."
The joint investigation into Pegasus identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries who were selected for potential targeting between 2016 to June 2021.
Among them were reporters for The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, El Pais, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Economist and Reuters, The Guardian reported.