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Court cancels hearing in Netanyahu trial to mull police spying implications

Judges give prosecutors until Tuesday afternoon to respond to claims about illicit hacking of figures tied to case, after earlier rejecting request by defense lawyers for delay

  • Opposition and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Opposition and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Supporters of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022. The placards (left) blame former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit for fabricating the charges and (right) compare the case to the Dreyfus affair. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Supporters of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022. The placards (left) blame former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit for fabricating the charges and (right) compare the case to the Dreyfus affair. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Former Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitch arrives for a court hearing in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Former Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitch arrives for a court hearing in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Prosecutor Ronit Tirosh at a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022, where former PM Netanyahu is on trial (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Prosecutor Ronit Tirosh at a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022, where former PM Netanyahu is on trial (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The judges in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial on Monday cancelled a scheduled court hearing for the next day, as they await answers about swirling police phone spying allegations.

The Jerusalem District Court gave prosecutors until 2 p.m. Tuesday to respond to questions regarding the illicit phone spying. The judges will convene Wednesday to discuss how to proceed, the court said.

The decision came after the court had earlier rejected a request for a delay by attorneys for Netanyahu and other defendants.

The attorneys filed the petition calling for a pause following an explosive report Monday morning that said the Israel Police used the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack into the phones of a wide range of public figures — including associates and family members of Netanyahu as well as multiple people currently involved in the trial — without any judicial oversight or approval.

According to the report, which was unsourced, police hacked the phones, among others, of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua; former Communications Ministry directors general Shlomo Filber and Avi Berger; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq, both of whom are defendants in the Netanyahu trial; former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad, and other journalists at Walla. The abuse use of the spyware reportedly extended far beyond people involved in the Netanyahu investigation and trial, with those illicitly targeted also said to include activists and demonstrators (including against Netanyahu), mayors, ministry director-generals, journalists and others.

In Case 4000, one of the three graft cases for which the former prime minister is on trial, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch, in exchange for editorial control over the Walla news site. The former premier denies the charges against him.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu call for his trial to be ended and an investigation opened at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yeshua, the first witness to testify in the corruption trial, appeared in court repeatedly over a period of several months. Elad and Berger have also testified, and Filber had been slated to take the stand in the coming weeks.

Jack Chen, an attorney for the Elovitches, said Monday that “for years we have been warning against a flawed and tendentious investigation that crossed all boundaries.” Today, he said, in light of the reports, “nobody can keep saying that we exaggerated.”

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Chen said “the most urgent thing to do for all of our sakes is to stop, conduct an independent investigation of what happened, understand its significance and then start making corrections.”

The report published Monday, weeks after Calcalist first reported on the alleged police use of such tactics, also said that Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister, and Netanyahu advisers Yonatan Urich and Topaz Luk had been targeted. Avner Netanyahu’s phone was said to have been hacked due to police suspicions that his mother, Sara, used it.

News that Filber was targeted by police spying first broke last week, though the Kan public broadcaster reported that so far, prosecutors believe any improper use of spyware technology was not tied to evidence used in the Netanyahu case.

On Friday, the Jerusalem District Court gave state prosecutors until Tuesday to answer questions from the defense about police use of spyware in the investigation into the former premier.

Attorneys for Netanyahu and other defendants in the case have demanded to know exactly what data was obtained, how it was used and whether others involved in the trial were also targeted in the operation, among other questions. Prosecutors have said they are examining the matter.

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