Saudi Arabia has dismissed allegations of hacking Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ phone. Reacting to reports that surfaced yesterday exposing details of the hacking, Riyadh’s embassy said on Twitter: “Recent media reports that suggest the kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd.”
The Saudis said that they had “called for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”
This dispute threatens to inflame what is already a damaged relationship between Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and Bezos, an American billionaire, who also owns the Washington Post.
It is just over a year since the prominent Saudi columnist for the Post, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed by 15 Saudi assassins. It is widely believed that the crown prince himself authorised the killing. The fallout has proven to be a major setback for Riyadh especially because of the damage to its relations to the business community.
Being able to woo the likes of Bezos, who tops the list of world’s richest person, is vital to Bin Salman’s ability to deliver the promise of reform and modernisation to the kingdom’s economy.
Despite Saudi denials, there appears to be sufficient evidence to warrant a thorough investigation called for by the UN. It said that there is credible forensic evidence to conclude that Bezos’ phone probably had been hacked with a tainted video sent from a WhatsApp account belonging to the crown prince.
For observers of the Kingdom, this news is unlikely to have come as a surprise. Under the crown prince – known as MBS – it has taken a number of bold and desperate steps to guard its interest. More than anyone, critics of MBS have felt the full force of his authoritarian streak.
Working side by side with Israel and the UAE, Riyadh has widened its snooping capabilities. Khashoggi was one of the many victims of this campaign. The Washington Post journalist’s associate had his phone hacked by the Saudis in the run up to Khashoggi’s targeting, using technology developed by Israel.