A UK court earlier this month ordered the Black Cube intelligence firm to pay an Israeli TV network £350,000 ($468,000 or NIS 1.55 million) after the secretive company withdrew from a major libel lawsuit against the media company.
Channel 12’s “Uvda” program aired an exposé last year that claimed one of Israel’s richest men hired Black Cube in 2014 to dig up dirt on Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid. Investigative journalist Ilana Dayan also alleged the firm attempted to derail a reform in the communications sector and to discredit a leading Israeli businesswoman.
Black Cube filed a £15 million ($19 million) lawsuit in the UK against Dayan and the network following the release of the report in June 2019.
Court documents showed that Black Cube, identified in the case as BC Strategy UK Limited, was ordered to issue an “interim payment” to cover the legal costs of Keshet Broadcasting Limited, Channel 12’s owner, and five journalists, according to a Wednesday report in The Guardian.
The court decision was filed on November 17, the day after Black Cube withdrew its claim.
A Black Cube spokesperson said: “The company, according to the recommendation of its English lawyers, has decided to discontinue its defamation claim in the UK against Uvda for a documentary which they broadcasted more than one year ago.”
“The company has been advised that since its income in the year following the broadcast has increased, the argument that the company has suffered financial loss because of the broadcast has fallen away. The company continues to state that the broadcast was wrong and seriously misleading and always acts strictly according to the law in every jurisdiction in which it operates.”
The UK is a common site for defamation cases due to its relatively strict libel laws and high rewards in such cases. Black Cube’s lawyers had argued that it could file the case in the UK because one of the company’s founders, and many of its customers, are based in the the country. The firm’s website lists offices in London, Tel Aviv and Madrid.
Black Cube, a company of former Israeli intelligence agents, 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.
Dayan said the libel lawsuit was an attempt to “silence” her.
In her report, she claimed Black Cube agents had been hired by the nation’s largest telecom provider, Bezeq, to try and derail 2014’s so-called Wholesale Market Reform, which introduced serious telecommunications competition for the company.
According to Dayan, in March 2014 an international consulting firm hired by Israel’s Communications Ministry was invited to a meeting in the Dorcherster Hotel in London, where the company was allegedly pressed by Black Cube agents in an attempt to try and discredit it and disrupt the reform.
Bezeq did not deny the report to Channel 12, but said that sort of behavior was no longer acceptable within the company and belonged to a different era. Black Cube denied it had worked to stymie any reforms.
Dayan also reported that an unnamed business official had once hired Black Cube to work against one of Israel’s richest and most powerful women, Ofra Strauss, of the billion-dollar food company Strauss Group.
Documents exposed by the report said Black Cube would try to “identify misconduct and conflicts in the professional and private lives of the individuals” and “find further possible leverage points.”
Dayan noted that it is not clear if Black Cube eventually acted against Strauss. Dayan quoted sources close to Strauss as saying she was angered, but not surprised, by the revelations.
In another report, Dayan alleged that tycoon Idan Ofer at one point hired the firm to probe then-finance minister Lapid and other top officials as part of Ofer’s efforts to influence tax policy on natural gas finds.
Ofer, a billionaire with vast holdings in shipping, drilling and mining industries, reportedly paid Black Cube to help him undermine an advisory panel appointed by Lapid that was aiming to raise taxes on his lucrative natural resources company, according to the TV investigation. The idea was to smear Lapid and the arbitrators in order to evade high taxes on profits.
Black Cube denied the allegations, saying that it never met with Ofer or targeted politicians, judges or regulators.
A spokesman for Ofer confirmed that he had contracted the agency for a brief period, but said that the Israeli tycoon ended up not using Black Cube’s intel. He stressed that the company gathered evidence only from public sources.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.