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'He is not a spy,' attorneys say

House cleaner sentenced to 3 years for snooping on Gantz for Iranian hackers

Omri Goren agrees to plea deal saying he passed on information to an enemy entity; original espionage charges dropped

Omri Goren. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Omri Goren. (Channel 12 screenshot)

A former cleaner at Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s private residence who was charged with spying for Iranian hackers late last year will serve three years in prison as part of a plea deal reached with the prosecution, the Rishon Lezion District Court ruled Tuesday.

Lod resident Omri Goren, 38, was found guilty of attempting to pass on information to an enemy entity. Under the plea deal, the espionage charges that were originally included in the indictment were dropped.

“[Goren] is not a spy and this isn’t a spying scandal,” said attorneys Gal Wolf and Anat Yaari, Goren’s representatives from the public defender’s office, after his sentencing.

“This is about a man who found himself entangled in debt and identified a security breach,” they added.

Goren largely admitted to the allegations against him throughout the investigation but repeatedly denied that he knowingly offered to help Iran.

“Who says it was the Iranians? It was hackers on Telegram,” Goren told reporters while appearing in court via video link in December.

However, his interrogation suggested that he was well aware of the hackers’ Iranian affiliation, saying he had planned to trick them by collecting their money without providing them with anything.

“If they would have waited a few days before arresting me they’d see that I’m not a spy. I wanted to trick the Iranians and take their money without sending them any photo or documents,” Goren said during his interrogation, according to Channel 12.

Illustrative: Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his wife Revital pose for photos at their home in Rosh Haayin, Israel, September 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Goren was arrested in November last year. According to the indictment, he had contacted hackers from the Iranian-affiliated group Black Shadow on Telegram and offered to provide them with information about Gantz in exchange for money.

He also reportedly offered to plant a bug on Gantz’s computer in exchange for money, only asking for $7,000 in return.

The indictment detailed how Goren 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.

Both Goren’s attorneys and the Shin Bet maintained early on that Goren was not exposed to any security-related materials while working in Gantz’s home.

Still, his arrest caused a turmoil within the Shin Bet, the security agency that was responsible for vetting him.

After his arrest, it was discovered that Goren had an extensive criminal history, with five convictions and four prison sentences for a variety of crimes, including two bank robberies.

This prompted the Shin Bet to launch an internal probe to determine how Goren, who was hired before Gantz entered politics, had been permitted to continue working for him once he became defense minister.

In its findings, the agency acknowledged “procedural failures in the way that Omri Goren’s security check was conducted,” citing issues with work flow procedures, professional activities and oversight mechanisms that it said “should have discovered the mistake after it happened.”

To address these failures, the Shin Bet said it had tightened its protocols regarding people who work with protected individuals. Two managers — the equivalent of military officers — received official reprimands for their part in the incident, but no other punishments were issued, the Shin Bet said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report. 

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