Investigation inevitable in alleged Likud-linked tracking of Gantz – report

TV quotes senior legal officials saying reports Netanyahu associates hired a private firm and used a cybersecurity employee to hack rival’s phone and dig dirt must be probed

Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, during an elections campaign event in Petah Tikva on March 13, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, during an elections campaign event in Petah Tikva on March 13, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Senior law enforcement sources were quoted Thursday as saying an investigation would be opened soon into allegations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party hired a private intelligence firm and others to dig up dirt on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz in the lead-up to this week’s Knesset elections.

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

On Thursday, Channel 13 quoted senior legal sources as saying the facts suggest a clear suspicion that criminal offenses were committed, including a hack of Gantz’s phone.

The report said the ball was in Gantz’s court, since an investigation into the matter wouldn’t be initiated without a complaint filed with the police or the attorney general.

The network reported that apart from CGI Group, another figure — a cybersecurity official for Likud with ties to Netanyahu’s lawyer and media adviser — was also involved in the efforts to track Gantz.

Attorney Amit Hadad seen during a court hearing at the District Court in Tel Aviv, February 05, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90 )

Rafi Weizman worked for a period of time from the office of Amit Hadad, Netanyahu’s attorney, the report said. It added that he briefly had a room with his name on the door at Hadad’s office, and that he had met Netanyahu’s media adviser Ofer Golan many times and even performed cybersecurity checks for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Armor, the company that employs Weizman, responded that the report was “distorted,” adding: “Armor provides counseling services to many customers. Some of the clients are common to it and to [Hadad’s] Hadad Roth & Co. lawfirm. Therefore, from time to time, discussions about them are held at the Hadad Roth offices.”

Blue and White last week urged the state comptroller to investigate Likud’s election campaign for “violating campaign finance laws.”

In a letter to State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, 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].”

Likud has 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 effort 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 asked to look into Blue and White’s dealings with a campaigning firm it had hired, the report 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 Blue and White.

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