WARSAW — Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is frantically trying to block a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of government-sponsored hacking of opposition politicians’ phones.

But the party’s fragile grip on power is making it very difficult to fend off an investigation.

That’s made a former rock musician Paweł Kukiz one of the most powerful politicians in Poland, as he has the crucial votes needed to allow for such a probe.

Kukiz’s rag-tag party, named after himself, only has four MPs, but the PiS-led United Right coalition needs them to retain its hold on power as otherwise it only has 228 seats in the Sejm, the 460-member lower house of parliament.

Kukiz has a loose arrangement with United Right, but is being wooed by the opposition.

The scandal was first reported by the Associated Press last month based on an investigation by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, a digital security nonprofit, which found that Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group had been used to break into at least three phones. One belonged to Senator Krzysztof Brejza, who said his phone was hacked 33 times while he was running the 2019 parliamentary election campaign of the opposition Civic Platform party.

The malware can gain access to all the information on a smartphone — photos, emails, recordings, passwords and social media posts — and transmit it back to the attacker, even turning the phone into a surveillance device. It can install itself without the knowledge or action of the user in a so-called zero-click exploit. It’s ostensibly sold to governments for counterterrorism and law enforcement purposes, but both Poland and Hungary have been accused of using it for political aims.

This week, the number of hacked phones grew to include Michał Kołodziejczak, leader of radical farmers’ union AGROunia, and journalist Tomasz Szwejgiert, who at the time of the hack was gathering material for a book on the head of Poland’s secret services, Mariusz Kamiński.

The government hasn’t commented on how widespread the hacks were, but Marek Suski, a senior PiS MP, said last week that the break-ins “did not exceed several hundred people a year.”

Hacking commission

The opposition-controlled Senate is already probing Pegasus in a special commission, but its work is being boycotted by PiS. The upper chamber also has fewer powers than the Sejm, and its commission doesn’t have subpoena authority.

That’s why the opposition wants a more powerful parliamentary probe, something Law and Justice is trying hard to avoid.

Kukiz said this week that he’ll back the formation of such a body, as long as he gets to lead it, saying he would “guarantee its independence.”

Seeing an opportunity to grill PiS in front of the cameras and in a commission with real investigative power, Civic Coalition, the opposition grouping led by Civic Platform, was quick to say it would grant Kukiz what he wants.

“[We] don’t see any personal issues. We are ready to support any parliamentarian from the opposition,” Borys Budka, the party’s parliamentary chief, told reporters, adding: “Paweł Kukiz gives the impression that he’s determined that this commission happens.”

Budka said supporters of setting up a commission had 230 votes, meaning the Sejm is evenly divided on the issue. A vote on calling a commission could take place next month.

The government’s backers insist there’s no need for a special probe.

“We think that this is unnecessary. There already is a secret services commission [in the parliament]. We are skeptical but we’re going to see what happens [and] we always have a majority,” Deputy Speaker Ryszard Terlecki said Monday.

But Kukiz is suddenly seeing some of his pet projects move to the top of PiS’s agenda. Suski last week proposed legislation mandating that radio stations play 80 percent Polish music during daytime hours; Kukiz had tried and failed to pass a law boosting the amount of Polish content.

If it is formed, the parliamentary commission would look at illegal spying from 2005 to 2021 — covering the first brief PiS government that collapsed in 2007 and then the Civic Platform-led government that was in power from 2007 to 2015, and then the recent years of the PiS-led nationalist coalition.

The government initially tried to downplay Pegasus, with some officials joking about a 1990s game console of the same name, but PiS chief Jarosław Kaczyński recently confirmed that Poland had bought the software.

“It would be bad if the Polish services did not have this type of tool,” Kaczyński said, but insisted that it wasn’t used to spy on the opposition.

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