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Court postpones all Netanyahu trial hearings this week over phone spying claims

Announcement comes after prosecutors request more time to complete check; say no evidence found of illicit police hacking during investigation of former PM

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday announced that all planned sessions this week in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial will be postponed.

The announcement came after earlier in the day, state prosecutors said in an interim statement that a police check turned up no evidence that officers wiretapped phones without a warrant during their investigation of alleged misdeeds by Netanyahu. But they also asked for three more days to complete their check, which is expected to answer questions raised by the court and the defense.

In its letter to the Jerusalem District Court, the prosecution did not comment on how many warrants were executed and whether spyware had been employed against the subjects of investigations.

Prosecutors relied on “information provided by competent authorities within the Israel Police” to check about 1,500 phone numbers associated with parties investigated in the three graft cases against Netanyahu, known as cases 1000, 2000, and 4000. The check focused on both standard wiretapping and the use of more “advanced” technologies, according to the prosecution’s update to the court.

The list of 1,500 numbers was compiled from the list of existing search orders, as well as phone numbers belonging to parties followed in the investigation.

No information was provided on the subset of phones within the 1,500 that were searched or listened to. Prosecutors only said police confirmed that all phones touched by the investigation had a court order attached to them.

The NSO Group logo is seen on a smartphone placed on a laptop keyboard. (Mundissima/Alamy)

“No actions were taken when there was no court order,” the prosecution told the court, which last week ordered a hiatus in the trial proceedings in order to investigate claims of widespread illicit hacking by police using NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus software, among other advanced technologies.

In a statement following the state prosecution’s announcements, the defense attorneys in the trial said that “the prosecution admits that it spied on civilians. No order authorized the police to use spyware. The prosecution has not yet provided the required information — who was hacked and to what extent.”

Meanwhile, heads of the Knesset’s opposition parties rejected the prosecution’s statement, calling it an “attempt to silence the scandal regarding the spying on Israeli citizens,” and called for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the affair.

An ongoing separate investigation, headed by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, along with former officials from the Shin Bet and Mossad and input from NSO Group, is looking into whether police made use of spy software to break into the phones of 26 people named last week in an explosive, unsourced report by the Calcalist newspaper.

Some of the names listed in that report were also looked at by prosecutors ahead of the latest update to the court, because they were involved in the police investigation into Netanyahu.

Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in the case against Benjamin Netanyahu, on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Figures listed in the Calcalist report associated with the trial and who supposedly had their phones hacked are: Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and currently a top witness in Case 4000 against Netanyahu; Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister; Shlomo Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general and a key state’s witness; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq (both are defendants in Case 4000); former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad; and other journalists at Walla.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch. In exchange, Netanyahu allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site. The former premier denies the charges against him.

The Jerusalem District Court postponed two hearings last week to allow investigators to look into the hacking claims, and Netanyahu’s attorneys filed a petition last week calling for a pause in the trial.

Judges are set to deliberate over when to resume proceedings in the case.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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