The hacking gang targeted Qatar World Cup critics

The hacking gang targeted Qatar World Cup critics

An India-based computer hacking gang targeted critics of the World Cup in Qatar, an investigation into British journalists said on Sunday, as the Qatari government furiously denied it had played any role in carrying out the wiretapping.

A database leaked to Britain’s Sunday Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the hacking of a dozen lawyers, journalists and celebrities from 2019 “on behalf of one particular client,” the paper and the bureau said in a statement.

“This investigation strongly suggests that this client is hosting (World Cup: Qatar),” it said, prompting Qatari authorities to describe the claim as “obviously false and without merit.”

Among those targeted was Michel Platini, the former head of European football.

Platini, who was hacked ahead of talks with French police about World Cup-related graft claims, told AFP he was “surprised and deeply shocked” by the report.

He said he would explore all possible legal avenues over what appeared to be a serious “breach” of his privacy.

London-based consultant Ghanem Nuseibeh whose company Cornerstone produced a report on corruption linked to the World Cup was also targeted, the Sunday Times said in its report based on the joint investigation.

Others included Nathalie Goulet, a French senator and vocal critic of Qatar for allegedly funding “Islamic terrorism” and Mark Somos, a Germany-based lawyer, who had submitted a complaint about the Qatari royal family to the UN Human Rights Council.

– Over 100 targeted –

The controversy comes two weeks before the World Cup is due to start in the conservative Gulf state on November 20.

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The newspaper claimed the hack was carried out by a 31-year-old employee of the accounting firm, which denies the claims.

Based in a suburb of the Indian tech city of Gurugram near Delhi, his network of computer hackers allegedly trapped their targets by using “phishing” techniques to gain access to their email inboxes, sometimes also deploying malware to take control over their computer cameras and microphones. .

However, hacking attacks were not limited to those interested in the Qatar World Cup.

In total, more than 100 victims had their private email accounts targeted by the gang “on behalf of investigators working for autocratic states, British lawyers and their wealthy clients”, the report said.

These included politicians dealing with issues related to Russia, such as the UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

He was targeted during a period when he was dealing with the aftermath of the 2018 Novichok attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal, which Britain has blamed on Russia.

The Swiss president and his deputy were also hacked days after the president met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss Russian sanctions.

The gang also took control of computers owned by Pakistani politicians and generals and had their conversations monitored, “apparently on the orders of the Indian secret services”, the Sunday Times added.

– ‘No evidence’ –

A Qatari official rejected the claims, describing the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s (TBIJ) report as “filled with blatant inconsistencies and falsehoods that undermine the credibility of your organization”.

“The report relies on a single source claiming that his ultimate client was Qatar, despite the fact that there is no evidence to prove it,” the official told AFP in a statement.

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“A number of companies have also flaunted non-existent ties to Qatar in a bid to raise their profile in the run-up to the World Cup.

“TBIJ’s decision to publish the report without a single credible piece of evidence to link their allegations to Qatar raises serious concerns about their motives, which appear to be driven by political, rather than public interest,” the official added.

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