August 3, 2021

when Saudi Arabia wanted to spy on the PSG boss

By Damien Leloup

Posted today at 6:00 p.m., updated at 6:03 p.m.

The spies weren’t looking for information about the next transfer window. At the end of 2018, agents engaged in a match between States, far from football fields, used the powerful Pegasus software to target two mobile numbers of the boss of Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), Qatari Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, and a landline number assigned to the Parisian club’s communications director, Jean-Martial Ribes.

The analyzes carried out by The world, with which the Forbidden Stories organization and Amnesty International shared a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers targeted by Israeli company NSO Group spyware, show that during this period a customer used Pegasus to target the management of BeIN Media Group, chaired by Mr. Al-Khelaïfi. This same client also targeted numerous senior Turkish, Emirati and Lebanese officials and several voices critical of the Saudi monarchy, suggesting, with a very high degree of confidence, that it is a Saudi security service. But for lack of being able to examine the phones of Mr. Al-Khelaïfi or other BeIN employees, The world cannot confirm whether these devices have been infected with Pegasus. However, the presence of multiple numbers linked to BeIN and its leaders in the list leaves little doubt about the will to put them under electronic surveillance.

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Mysterious pirate chain

At the time of targeting, the diplomatic and trade conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is at its height. Riyadh accuses Doha of being too close to its Iranian rival, accuses it of supporting terrorist organizations and of using its Al-Jazeera satellite television channel for the “Defame” ; accusations denied en bloc by Qatar. The two countries severed all their relations in June 2017 and then engaged in a violent communication war. One of the battlegrounds of this conflict is the broadcasting of major football competitions: since 2017, a mysterious pirate channel, BeoutQ, broadcasts by satellite and on the Internet, for a low price, all of BeIN’s sports programs, some of which were acquired at a high price.

The Qatari president of Paris-Saint-Germain, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, at the Stade de France, in Saint-Denis, on May 19, 2021.

Very quickly, the emirate accused Saudi Arabia. The latter vigorously denies, while leaving behind a long list of clues showing very clearly that BeoutQ is operating with her passive, even active support. In 2019, the United States will confirm the existing ties between Riyadh and BeoutQ by placing the kingdom on a list of countries that do not respect copyright.

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