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Pegasus reports: Former SC judge Arun Mishra and lawyers of Nirav Modi, Christian Michel on surveillance list

The two former Supreme Court registrars who are included in the list used to work in the department where writ petitions are filed. 

The phone numbers of former Supreme Court Judge Arun Mishra, two former Supreme Court registrars, lawyers Vijay Aggarwal, Aljo P. Joseph and M. Thangathurai, have been featured on the list of potential targets for surveillance by Pegasus, a report by The Wire revealed. Vijay Aggarwal was the legal counsel of fugitive businessman Nirav Modi, whereas Aljo P. Joseph represented Christian Michel, the British ‘middleman’ who was extradited to India in 2018 in connection with the AgustaWestland helicopter deal case, the report said.

Why it matters? According to the NSO group which developed Pegasus, the spyware is only sold to governments and their agencies to surveil criminals and terrorists. However, a recent exposé by Forbidden Stories, in association with a consortium of 16 other media outlets, has revealed that the spyware was used to (possibly) snoop on heads of state, politicians, lawyers, activists, journalists, businessmen, and so on. These revelations have major implications on the state of surveillance and privacy in India. It is also a cause of serious concern that a former Supreme Court Judge’s name is a part of the list of potential targets of surveillance. 

The Wire has revealed the following names who were listed as potential suspects of Pegasus surveillance in India:

Justice Arun Mishra: Arun Mishra is a retired Supreme Court judge who currently chairs the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). A Rajasthan-based number that was registered under Mishra’s name was a part of the list of potential targets of Pegasus surveillance, as per The Wire’s report. The number was reportedly added to the list in 2019 while Mishra was a sitting judge in the Supreme Court. Mishra told the news outlet that the number was not in use by him and he had surrendered it on April 21, 2014. However, a confidential source at BSNL told The Wire that the number was registered under Mishra’s name from September 2010 to September 2018.

During his tenure at the apex court, Mishra presided over politically sensitive cases such as the Haren Pandya murder case, amendments to the Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, medical college bribery case among others. 

Vijay Aggarwal: Vijay Aggarwal is the counsel of fugitive diamond businessman Nirav Modi. Modi has been accused fraudulent transactions worth about ₹11,400 crore by Punjab National Bank (PNB). Aggarwal also represents Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi’s uncle, who is the co-accused in the Punjab National Bank scam along with Modi. He’s also wanted by the Indian authorities for money laundering, criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, etc. The report stated that Aggarwal’s number, along with his wife’s, was added to the list in 2018 after he decided to represent Modi. However, both Choksi and his wife’s phones were not available for forensic analysis.

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Alpo P. Joseph: Joseph was added to the list in 2019 when he was representing Christian Michel, a British “middleman” who was expedited for his role in the Agusta Westland case. The Wire’s report suggested that the Modi government wanted to implicate senior Congress leaders along with the Gandhi family in the Augusta scam through Joseph. His phone’s forensic analysis is underway; however, Amnesty’s tech team told the news organisation that the preliminary analysis indicates digital traces of Pegasus targeting via iMessage.

While speaking to The Wire, Joseph said, “This government is known for peeping/snooping into the privacy of citizens. The use of such technology shows that democratic principles are being compromised and that India’s democracy is not safe in their hands.”

N.K. Gandhi and T.I. Rajput: N.K. Gandhi and T.I. Rajput are two former Supreme Court registrars who worked in the crucial ‘writ’ section of the court, the report said. Several writ petitions are filed in the apex court and some contain sensitive political information which can be of direct concern to the government. Mobile phones of both Rajput and Gandhi were unavailable for a forensic examination so it couldn’t be clearly established if they were persons of interest or if surveillance was carried out on them. 

M. Thangathurai: M. Thangathurai is a junior lawyer who works in the chambers of former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi. His number, which features in the list, is registered under Rohatgi’s name in several places like banks and other places. The number was added to the list in 2019, two years after the senior counsel demitted the top-lawyer office.

Other potential targets of Pegasus surveillance 

According to The Wire, with the above new additions, the total number of people who have been targets of potential Pegasus surveillance amounts to 161 with 14 politicians and political aides among them:

  1. Rahul Gandhi – The Congress Party leader who is seen as the direct opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. he was also the presumed Prime Ministerial candidate from Congress during the 2019 general elections – the year in which his name was added to the list of potential targets for surveillance. 
  2. Prashant Kishor – Kishor is an election strategist who represented PM Narendra Modi during the 2014 elections and has represented several other parties since then, including Trinamool Congress in the recent West Bengal 2021 elections 
  3. Abhishek Bannerjee – West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee’s nephew and a Trinamool Congress MP 
  4. Ashwini Vaishnaw – A former IAS officer and currently the Minister for Railways, Communications, Electronics & Information Technology in the Union Cabinet.
  5. Prahlad Singh Patel – Newly inducted Minister of State for Jal Shakti in the Union Cabinet.
  6. Pradeep Awasthi – Personal secretary to former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia.
  7. Sanjay Kachroo – A corporate executive who was appointed by Smriti Irani, former human resource development minister, as her officer on special duty in 2014.
  8. G. Parameshwara: Deputy chief minister under the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka, which was toppled after several MLAs defected to the BJP.
  9. Satish: Former Chief Minister of Karnataka H.D. Kumaraswamy’s personal secretary
  10. Venkatesh: Former Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramia’s personal secretary
  11. Manjunath Muddegowda: Former Prime Minister and JD(S) president H.D. Devegowda’s security personnel 

 

More reading on Pegasus

 

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