House cleaner accused of spying on Gantz denies espionage was on behalf of Iran

Omri Goren tells reporters: ‘Who says it was Iranians? It was hackers on Telegram’; detention extended till January as formal remand hearing postponed

Screen capture from video of Omri Goren, accused of offering to spy on Defense Minister Benny Gantz for Iran, during a remand hearing at Lod District Court, on December 2, 2021. (Channel 12 News)
Screen capture from video of Omri Goren, accused of offering to spy on Defense Minister Benny Gantz for Iran, during a remand hearing at Lod District Court, on December 2, 2021. (Channel 12 News)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s house cleaner, who has been charged with attempting to spy on the minister on behalf of Iran, on Thursday challenged the accusation that the Iranians were behind the espionage.

Omri Goren appeared via video link at the Lod District Court for a remand hearing, which was postponed as his defense attorney claimed that he has not been provided with all of the case material. The remand hearing was delayed until the beginning of January, but the court ordered that Goren nonetheless behind kept in custody till then.

Before the start of the hearing, and under unclear circumstances, reporters managed to address Goren on video as he waited for the court session to start.

A Channel 12 news reporter asked him why he had sought to spy for Iran.

“Who says it was the Iranians? It was hackers on Telegram,” Goren responded. Reporters were then apparently prevented from asking any further questions.

Attorney Gal Wolf, Goren’s representative from the public defender’s office, told the court that Goren was being held as a national security offense prisoner and has not been permitted to make any phone calls.

Wolf told media that the hearing was delayed because he has still not received all of the case material which, he said, was “trickling in.”

“This is inconceivable — to take a person and put him in solitary confinement as a kind of punishment and not allow him external communication — and certainly not with his defense attorneys,” Wolf said.

Screen capture from video of attorney Gal Wolf speaking with media after a remand hearing for his client Omri Goren, accused of offering to spy on the defense minister for Iran, seen at the Lod District Court, Dcember 2, 2021. (Channel 12 News)

Wolf told the court that anyone wanting to visit Goren where he is being held at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem needed special permission. The attorney asked that his client be permitted to make phone calls to his family and be allowed to speak freely with his legal counsel.

Presiding judge Ido Druyan-Gamlielle ordered the Israel Prison Service to clarify the situation and to explain why Goren was not permitted to speak freely by phone with his attorney.

The Shin Bet security service revealed last month that it had arrested Goren — a convicted bank robber who has served multiple prison terms — for allegedly offering to spy on Gantz for Iran.

Goren was hired before Gantz became defense minister, and it appeared that the Shin Bet never looked into his background. Gantz was chief of staff of the IDF before he entered politics.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a ceremony honoring wounded soldiers, in Tel Aviv, November 21, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the Shin Bet, Goren reached out in November to “a figure affiliated with Iran and offered to help him in different ways, in light of his access to the minister’s home.”

In an indictment against Goren, the figure was identified as a representative of Black Shadow, which carried out a major cyberattack on Israeli civilian websites last month, including stealing data from a popular Israeli LGBT dating site.

Though the charge sheet did not explicitly deal with Goren’s motives, it indicated that he was acting out of financial considerations, allegedly telling the group that he would “transfer information from the house to [Black Shadow] in exchange for a sum of money.”

According to the indictment, he took photographs of Gantz’s desk, computer, phone and tablet; a closed safe and a shredder; pictures of Gantz and his family; and a copy of the minister’s local property tax payments.

Omri Goren (Channel 12 screenshot)

Channel 12 News has reported that Goren reached out to Black Shadow on the Telegram messaging app using a fake identity, and said he worked for the defense minister and could help the hacking outfit in various ways. He reportedly asked for $7,000 to spy on Gantz.

Wolf has said his client admitted to some of the offenses he was accused of, but denied carrying out the security-related crimes attributed to him.

The attorney told The Times of Israel last month that his client “was not exposed to any security-related materials” while working in Gantz’s home — echoing the Shin Bet security service’s claim.

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