BUCHAREST, Romania — Three Israelis have been given suspended prison sentences in Romania after being convicted of trying to intimidate the country’s former top corruption prosecutor.
Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus, former Israeli intelligence officers and co-founders of corporate intelligence firm Black Cube, along with employee Gal Farchi, were slapped with suspended sentences of two years and 11 months, according to Thursday’s decision by a Bucharest court made public on Monday.
The verdict came after the trio, who were not present in Romania for the court case, struck a plea deal with prosecutors.
They were accused of having created an “organized crime group” that in 2016 targeted Laura Kovesi, a prosecutor who at the time headed Romania’s anti-corruption agency DNA and was overseeing a vast investigation of senior figures in the country.
Kovesi left the agency in 2019 to head the EU’s newly created top prosecutor’s office.
Two lower-level Black Cube officials were given suspended sentences as part of the same case in 2016 and 2017. At the time, Zorella told Israeli investigators cooperating with their Romanian counterparts that he had instructed the pair to hack into Kovesi’s email in the hopes of finding compromising material. The pair was detained in Bucharest before being able to do so.
David Geclowicz and Ron Weiner were later given suspended sentences of two years and eight months.
As part of the wide-ranging case, Romanian authorities last year began legal proceedings against a former Romanian secret agent, Daniel Dragomir, who is alleged to have contacted one of Black Cube’s founders and wired him payment for his services.
Dragomir fled the country in June 2020, on the eve of being found guilty in a separate corruption case.
According to local media, an unnamed businessman had hired Dragomir who then contacted the Israeli firm.
Romania is among the EU’s most corruption-plagued countries. Kovesi spearheaded an unprecedented campaign against graft in Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007 but has come under pressure from Brussels to root out systemic corruption.
In a statement in response to the sentence, Black Cube said: “This unfortunate affair occurred six years ago and was recycled many times in the media.
“Black Cube, which at the time was hired by a senior official in Romania, fully cooperated with the Romanian authorities to solve this matter and to release two of its employees who were arrested.”
The company said that “as part of the cooperation, Black Cube collected evidence and statements to uncover the people behind this affair, and the employees were released after a few weeks as part of the bargain mentioned in the article.”
It added that “immediately following this project, six years ago, Black Cube ceased to operate in the cyber world, and established a client onboarding committee, that thoroughly examines any new client in order to avoid such unfortunate incidents.” It has been “working for over a decade with top tier law firms, banks and multinational corporates, and only acts in accordance with legal advice it receives in any jurisdiction it operates in.”
Black Cube bills itself as a “select group of veterans from Israeli elite intelligence units,” and its website lists former Mossad director Meir Dagan, who died in 2016, as its honorary president.
The company has drawn international attention for allegedly working to discredit Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as to protect the reputation of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.