Blue and White urges probe of alleged Likud hiring of intel firm

Blue and White urges probe of alleged Likud hiring of intel firm

Benny Gantz’s party claims rivals committed campaign financing violations after report ties Likud-linked company to CGI group, which centrist alliance had formerly employed

Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah on February 26, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah on February 26, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Blue and White party on Thursday urged the state comptroller to investigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud election campaign for “violating campaign finance laws” by allegedly hiring a private intelligence firm to dig up dirt on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The business daily The Marker reported Tuesday that attorney Yossi Cohen, described as “extremely close to the Netanyahu family,” contacted the CGI Group, company looking for compromising information on Gantz.

CGI Group had previously been hired by Blue and White and had a public falling out with the party ahead of the September elections.

In a letter to State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman Thursday, Blue and White accused Likud of violating campaign financing laws by seeking CGI’s services.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In the article that was published in The Marker yesterday, it emerges that Likud paid the investigative firm through a private company to track the Blue and White chairman,” it said. “This is a violation of the campaign financing law, since this is an expense for a service in the framework of elections, which was not paid for or reported in accordance with the law. Netanyahu once again is accepting illegal donations and is resorting to dishonorable means, all to avoid prosecution [in the three criminal cases against him].”

The Marker originally said an unnamed organization “connected to the Likud party” was to pay for CGI’s services, but it is not known whether the estimated several hundred thousand shekels changed hands.  In a followup article, it said the organization, described as a cyber or computing company that also has provided services to Likud, had paid for the service.

“Netanyahu and Likud have chosen criminal, dark and low tactics to help Netanyahu avoid prosecution,” Blue and White said, referring to the prime minister’s upcoming corruption trial. “It’s either Blue and White or {Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip] Erdogan,” it added.

In the final stretch before Monday’s election campaign, the party has taken to likening the prime minister to the Turkish president.

Likud on Tuesday evening denied hiring CGI.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the B’sheva group, on February 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

CGI was at the heart of reports in August, just ahead of the September 17, 2019, election, that the phones of Gantz and other Blue and White party leaders were hacked by Russian intelligence.

The firm was hired by Blue and White to help it track down party officials who were leaking embarrassing recordings of party leaders to the press. But the company’s actions were later seen as a bigger setback for the Blue and White campaign than the original problem it was hired to solve.

CGI’s phone hacking report leaked to the media, and quickly became part of Likud’s campaign trying to depict Gantz as an ineffectual leader.

According to The Marker, after the fight between Blue and White and CGI Group had died down, a representative of the Likud campaign reached out to the firm to ascertain whether it was willing to engage in corporate espionage against its one-time client, including by providing information gained from its time advising the centrist party.

The company was reportedly asked to look into Blue and White’s dealings with a campaigning firm it had hired, the journal said, but did not provide details as to why those dealings might provide fodder for the party’s opponents.

One of the founders of CGI is Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet chief and ex-MK for the Yesh Atid party, which is now part of the Blue and White slate.

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