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Serpentine Galleries CEO Yana Peel Is Indirect Owner of Company with Stake in Controversial Tech Firm [Updated]

Yana Peel.

DAVID FISHER/SHUTTERSTOCK

According to documents on the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s website, Yana Peel, the CEO of the Serpentine Galleries in London, is an indirect owner of the investment company Novalpina Capital Group SARL, which has a stake in the controversial Israeli tech firm NSO Group. The Guardian first reported on Peel’s alleged link to NSO on Friday.

Amnesty International has been among the most notable human rights groups to raise concerns about NSO Group’s services. In a report issued by the organization in August of last year, Amnesty International alleged that NSO Group was relying on a spyware technology called Pegasus to target dissidents in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region. In May of this year, NSO Group said that it would investigate “credible allegations of misuse.”

A document on the SEC’s website from February 2018 says that Peel owns “25 percent to 50 percent” of Novalpina. In a release put out on Friday by Novalpina, the firm said it acquired a majority stake in NSO Group on February 14. (Amnesty International’s report predates the acquisition.) Within that same release, Novalpina said it “will establish at NSO a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights in full alignment with the UN Guiding Principles.”

In a statement given to the Guardian, Peel said that she has “no involvement in the operations or decisions of Novalpina, which is managed by my husband, Stephen Peel, and his partners.”

Peel is known in the United Kingdom for advocating for activist-oriented art by such figures as Ai Weiwei. She has also previously said that the Serpentine should act as a “safe space for unsafe ideas.”

Reached by ARTnews, a Serpentine representative said that the museum could not comment and that the Guardian article was “under legal challenge.”

In recent months, connections between the Serpentine and the Sackler family, which has also come under fire for its business dealings, have been addressed by artists. Earlier this year, at a press conference for her exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (one of two art spaces run by the Serpentine Galleries), Hito Steyerl called on the museum to address its ties to the Sacklers, whose pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma has been widely accused of inciting the opioid crisis through production of the drug OxyContin. In response, the Serpentine said it had “no future plans to accept funding from the Sacklers.”

Update 6/15/19, 4:00 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify Peel's alleged link to NSO. Peel is an indirect owner of Novalpina, which has a majority stake in NSO. The post has been amended to reflect this.

Update 6/19/19, 6:05 p.m.: Since this article was published a lawyer for Yana Peel contacted ARTnews to say that their client is "a shareholder in Novalpina Capital Group SARL, which has a very small passive interest in a fund, of which her husband is one of the management team. This fund has a majority stake in Israeli tech firm NSO Group." She has "no involvement in the investment decisions or operations of the fund."

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