Netanyahu aides ask AG to drop investigation over ‘illegal’ phone search

Netanyahu aides ask AG to drop investigation over ‘illegal’ phone search

Ofer Golan and Jonatan Urich claim seizure and perusal of their devices is the latest in a ‘string of illegal failures’ by police, state prosecutors

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, left, and Avichai Mandelblit at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, left, and Avichai Mandelblit at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two senior Likud officials on Friday asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to drop the investigation into the alleged harassment of a state’s witness in one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal cases, citing the “string of illegal failures” by police and state prosecutors.

Ofer Golan, a Likud campaign manager and Netanyahu family spokesman, and party spokesman Jonatan Urich also filed a complaint against the investigation with the Jerusalem District Court over a police search of their cellphones, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

The pair also asked that Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit be investigated, saying that investigators “acknowledged the existence of an internal group to investigate Case 4000, which includes material that was illegally obtained.”

Police searched Golan’s and Urich’s phones during the course of an investigation into allegations that senior campaign figures for Netanyahu had harassed Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of the prime minister who led the ruling Likud party’s campaign in the 2015 elections before testifying against the premier in an alleged bribery case.

File: Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager and Netanyahu family spokesman, arrives at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In their letter to Mandelblit, Golan and Urich said any material removed from their phones was illegally obtained, and should be excluded from the evidence.

The pair filed an official complaint with the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department on Wednesday and Thursday over the phone searches, alleging that Lahav 433 investigators carried out “illegal acts” during the investigation.

On Wednesday, Tel Aviv Magistrate Court approved limited police searches of the aides’ phones but ordered them conducted under close judicial supervision.

Filber is a key witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in telecom giant Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Likud spokesman Jonathan Urich speaks at a Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He was then director-general of the Communications Ministry, which Netanyahu headed as minister during the period under scrutiny by prosecutors. He was arrested and questioned over his involvement in the case before turning state’s witness.

Urich, Golan and two other Likud campaign staffers are suspected of ordering a van sent to Filber’s home with loudspeakers blasting allegations he lied about the case.

Mandelblit on Monday asked police to address claims that investigators had overstepped their authority in searching the phones after he received a letter from a lawyer representing Urich, which was leaked to the press. The letter claimed that police investigators had looked at messages on his phone that were unrelated to the investigation of the harassment of Filber, Channel 12 news reported Monday evening.

Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry, during a court hearing in the Supreme Court regarding the closing of the Israel Broadcasting Authorities. May 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In addition to Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he is also suspected of the latter two offenses in two other cases against him. Mandelblit is expected to decide by the end of the year whether or not to press charges against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.

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