Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The United Nations Human Rights Office recommended an investigation Wednesday into reports that hackers linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman broke into the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said independent experts are "gravely concerned" about reports that said a WhatsApp account linked to the prince hacked Bezos' phone in 2018. Information about the cyberattack was reported earlier by The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. They said an analysis found it "highly probable" a malicious file embedded in a video sent to his phone from the WhatsApp account in mid-2018 leaked large amounts of data, and "high confidence" Saudi actors were behind it.
The hacking reports raised questions about bin Mohammed's potential role in the 2018 death of former Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
"The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the crown prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia," the experts said in a joint statement. "The allegations reinforce other reporting pointing to a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities, including nationals and non-nationals.
"These allegations are relevant as well to ongoing evaluation of claims about the crown prince's involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi."
The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday called the hacking reports "absurd.""We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out," the embassy said in a tweet.
The Guardian cited analysts who said Bezos was probably targeted because his newspaper, The Washington Post, employed Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident writer critical of Riyadh's royal family. Mohammed has denied direct involvement but U.S. intelligence experts concluded he likely knew of and approved the writer's death.
"At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post," the OHCHR added.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., earlier sent a letter to Bezos asking for information about the malware used to hack the phone, and said the cyberattack seems to be part of a "growing trend," the Guardian report said.