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Cambridge University halts £400m deal with UAE over Pegasus spyware claims

Cambridge

Cambridge University halts £400m deal with UAE over Pegasus spyware claims

The University of Cambridge has broken off talks with the United Arab Emirates over a record £400m collaboration after claims about the Gulf state’s use of controversial Pegasus hacking software, the university’s vice-chancellor has said.

The proposed deal, hailed by the university in July as a “potential strategic partnership … helping to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our planet” – would have included the largest donation of its kind in the university’s history, spanning a decade and involving direct investment from the UAE of more than £310m.

But Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s outgoing vice-chancellor, said in an interview that no meetings or conversations with UAE were now taking place after revelations related to Pegasus, software that can hack into and secretly take control of a mobile phone.

A university spokesperson said it had approached the UAE and other partnerships “with an open mind” and “these are always finely balanced assessments”, adding: “We will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating our long term options with our partners and with the university community.”

The Pegasus Project revealed a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers that, it is believed, were linked to people of interest to clients of NSO Group, the Israeli company behind Pegasus. The principal government responsible for selecting hundreds of UK numbers appeared to be the UAE, the Guardian found.

“There were further revelations about Pegasus that really caused us to decide that it’s not the right time to be pursuing these kinds of really ambitious plans with the UAE,” Toope told the Varsity student newspaper.

Asked if he would consider pursuing the deal in the future, Toope said: “No one’s going to be rushing into this. There will be no secret arrangements being made. I think we’re going to have to have a robust discussion at some point in the future. Or we may determine that it’s not worth raising again. I honestly don’t know.”

Toope said he had not met the UAE’s ruling prince and was not holding meetings with anyone from the state. “There are existing relationships across the university on a departmental and individual academic level but there are no conversations about a big project,” he said. “We’re aware of the risks in dealing with many states around the world but we think it’s worth having the conversation.”

News of the potential collaboration, with documents seen by the Guardian detailing “joint UAE and University of Cambridge branding” and new institutes based in the Gulf state, caused an outcry over the prospect of financial ties with a monarchy notorious for alleged human rights abuses, few democratic institutions and hostility towards the rights of women as well as those of LGBTQ+ people.

Talks over the partnership were supported by the university’s internal bodies, despite concerns. But Toope’s remarks suggest that it was the UAE’s alleged use of the controversial hacking software that was responsible for ending the talks.

In July, shortly after the Cambridge-UAE partnership was announced, the Pegasus Project revealed that more than 400 UK mobile phone numbers appeared in a leaked list of numbers identified by government clients of NSO between 2017 and 2019. The UAE was identified as one of 40 countries that had access to Pegasus, and the principal country linked to the UK numbers.

The Cambridge-UAE project was to have included a joint innovation institute and a plan to improve and overhaul the emirates education system, as well as work on climate change and energy transition. “Are those important enough things to think that we might be able to mitigate the risks? The answer is: I don’t know quite frankly,” said Toope, who is to step down at the end of the year.

Dubai, the emirate city ruled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is also believed to have been an NSO client. The phones of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter Princess Latifa and his ex-wife Princess Haya, who fled the country and came to the UK in 2019, both appeared in the data.

Last week a high court judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed hacked the phone of Princess Haya using Pegasus spyware in an unlawful abuse of power and trust.

Dubai did not respond to a Guardian request for comment on the Pegasus Project at the time. Sheikh Mohammed did not respond, although it is understood he denies attempting to hack the phones of Latifa or her friends or associates, or ordering others to do so.

In multiple statements, NSO said that the fact that a number appeared on the leaked list was in no way indicative of whether a number was targeted for surveillance using Pegasus. “The list is not a list of Pegasus targets or potential targets,” the company said. “The numbers in the list are not related to NSO Group in any way.”

A university spokesperson said: “The University of Cambridge has numerous partnerships with governments and organisations around the world. It approached the UAE as it does all potential partnerships: with an open mind, and rigorously weighing the opportunities to contribute to society – through collaborative research, education and innovation – against any challenges.”

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Business

Adopting CNG can reduce Nigeria’s inflation – FG

The Nigerian government has said that successfully adopting Compressed Natural Gas can reduce inflation, which soared to 33.69 per cent in April 2024.

The Programme Director of the Presidential Initiative on Compressed Natural Gas, Pi-CNG, Michael Oluwagbemi, disclosed this during a one-day South-South and South-East stakeholders’ engagement meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

He noted that Nigerians can realize between 40 to 50 per cent savings from petrol upon adopting CNG.

“It can reduce inflation. It is cheaper. You can realize between 40% and 50% savings from patrol. This is good for Nigeria, and it is safer.

“It is 18 times safer than petrol and diesel. It is cleaner and safer for the environment,” he said.

He added that Nigeria would save about $2.5 billion by converting every one million vehicles to CNG.

Recall that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu asked all federal government ministries, departments and agencies to procure CNG buses.

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Nigeria won’t need to import fuel by June — Dangote

Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Dangote Group, announced that by next month, Nigeria will no longer need to import gasoline due to the operational plans of the Dangote Refinery.

Speaking as a panellist at the Africa CEO Forum Annual Summit in Kigali, Dangote highlighted that the refinery, which has already commenced supplying diesel and aviation fuel in Nigeria, has the capacity to fulfil the diesel and petrol needs of West Africa and the aviation fuel requirements for the entire African continent.

Dangote emphasised, “Right now, Nigeria has no cause to import anything apart from gasoline, and by sometime in June, within the next four or five weeks, Nigeria shouldn’t import anything like gasoline; not one drop of a litre.”

Highlighting how far the oil company has come, Dangote expressed how they are focused on ensuring that the continent will depend less on imports in the near future.

“We have enough gasoline to give to at least the entire West Africa, and diesel to give to West Africa and Central Africa. We have enough aviation fuel to give to the entire continent and also export some to Brazil and Mexico,” he said.

“Today, our polypropylene and our polyethene will meet the entire demand of Africa, and we are doing base oil, which is like engine oil; we are doing linear benzyl, which is a raw material to produce detergent. We have 1.4 billion people in the population; nobody is producing that in Africa.

“So, all the raw materials for our detergents are imported. We are producing that raw material to make Africa self-sufficient.

“As I said, give us three or a maximum of four years, and Africa will not, I repeat, not import any more fertiliser from anywhere.

“We will make Africa self-sufficient in potash, phosphate, and urea; we are at three million metric tonnes, and in the next twenty months, we will be at six million metric tonnes of urea, which is the entire capacity of Egypt. We are getting there.”

Dangote recalled how his dream for further investment in Africa as well as ending fuel importation in Africa has culminated in what is now one of the biggest refineries in the world.

“For some of us, despite the boom of the capital market in the US—you know, Google, Microsoft, and the rest—we didn’t participate; we took all our money and invested in Africa.

“We had this dream just about five years ago, and we said we wanted to move from five billion dollars in revenue to thirty billion dollars in revenue, and we made it happen. It is possible and now we have made it happen and now we have finished our refinery.

“Our refinery is quite big; it is something that we believe that Africa needs. If you look at the whole continent, there are only two countries that don’t import petroleum products, which is a tragedy.

“They are only Algeria and Libya. The rest are all importers. So, we need to change and make sure that we don’t just go and produce raw materials; we should also produce finished products and create jobs.

Speaking further, the African richest man said, “One of the things we also need to know as Africans is that we produce raw materials and export them when you export raw materials and somebody now keeps importing things into your continent and dumping goods. what you are importing is poverty and exporting jobs. So, we have to change that narrative.”

“We just commissioned in February, and now we are producing jet fuel, diesel, and by next month, gasoline.

“What that would do is that we would be taking most of the African crude that is being produced and also be able to supply not only Nigeria because our capacity is too big for Nigeria, but it would also supply West Africa, Central Africa, and also South Africa.

“We have 650,000 barrels per day, 1 million metric tonnes of polypropylene, and 590,000 metric tonnes of carbon black; those are the raw materials—ink, dyes and co.

“We are expanding more. This is the first phase and we are going out to the next phase, which will start early next year.”(tribune)

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Business

Customs FX rate for import duties rises to N1,530/$

The foreign exchange (FX) rate for import duties has been adjusted by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to N1,530 per dollar.

This was adopted on Friday, May 17, representing a 6.13 percent increase compared to the N1,441.58 adopted on May 6.

The NCS always adopts FX rates recommended by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for import duties based on trading activities in the official FX market

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