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Nothing mythical about Pegasus

The week in corruption, 23 July 2021

Two hands holding a phone with a blank screen,. the image is glitchy.

Image: Anna Lshansky / Shutterstock

Transparency Int'l

Journalists and activists are under constant risk in far too many parts of the world. This week, we saw the extent and all-consuming nature of the threats.

The NSO Group – the Israeli company behind the spyware that can do everything from extracting data to inconspicuously recording live audio and video – maintains that their technology is intended for use only against criminals and terrorists. But the Pegasus Project shows that it has been used by some governments to target journalists, activists and political opponents.

The name of one journalist on the list of those selected for targeting hits particularly close to home: Khadija Ismayilova.

Khadija was critical to the Azerbaijani Laundromat investigations, which exposed Danske Bank’s role in moving suspicious cash used to launder Azerbaijan’s international image.

Subsequent inquiries into Danske Bank’s dealings found that, over the course of 12 years, as much as US$230 billion in dirty money was funnelled through its accounts. And yet, full accountability for the apparent anti-money laundering failures has been impossible to achieve – laying bare the gaps that have made the EU a money laundering hotspot.

To address the systemic shortcomings, since 2019, Transparency International has been calling for a dedicated EU anti-money laundering body with powers to supervise both financial institutions and national supervisory bodies, as well as the powers to sanction them.

This week, we finally received good news on this front. The European Commission has proposed a new anti-money laundering agency which would be a “centrepiece” of the bloc’s financial supervisory framework.

While we think that the Commission’s proposal has room for improvement – such as ensuring inclusion of smaller financial institutions – if the European Council and Parliament follow through, this could be a much-needed gamechanger.

This outcome is built on the courageous work of journalists like Khadija, and it is one of the many reasons why there need to be consequences for the Pegasus Project revelations.

If they go unpunished, reports of surveillance of journalists and civil society can have a serious chilling effect. To bring injustices to light, we need protection to safely report on and to stand up against abuses of power.

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