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Netanyahu lawyers demand prosecution disclose info hacked from former aide’s phone

Attorneys for former PM and co-defendants reject claim that nothing of interest was taken from device belonging to state witness Shlomo Filber

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Attorneys for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the court to order prosecutors to turn over information illegally obtained from the phone of key state witness Shlomo Filber Thursday.

On Wednesday, prosecutors admitted that Filber’s phone had been hacked with the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware without appropriate judicial oversight, but claimed that no relevant information was found or used in the case and said the trial should therefore proceed as scheduled.

Lawyers for Netanyahu and his co-defendants Shaul and Iris Elovitch, former controlling shareholders of telecom giant Bezeq, demanded prosecutors share the information obtained anyway.

“What is clear is that we are talking about an illegal action taken by the police against the defendants and a state witness in this proceeding, whose purpose, characteristics, instructions for its execution, its use, and its scope remain unknown,” the appeal said.

Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general, is a key part of the prosecution’s strategy in proving bribery charges against Netanyahu, who is accused of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch.

In exchange, Netanyahu was allegedly allowed to polish coverage of himself and his family in the Walla news site, also owned by the Elovitches.

Shlomo Filber, then 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)

The former aide is one of dozens of people whose phones were allegedly hacked by police using the Pegasus program. Unsourced reports in the Calcalist newspaper that police used the spyware illicitly have been met with widespread condemnation and calls for intensive probes into the charges. Supporters of Netanyahu have argued that the allegations are a reason to toss out the entire case against him.

Police and state prosecutors, however, insist that their investigations show the Calcalist allegations are largely unfounded.

The prosecutors’ claim that nothing of value was extracted from Filber’s phone is based on an internal police investigation into use of the program on some 1,500 phone numbers associated with the investigation into Netanyahu, who is facing charges in three separate cases.

Lawyers for the defendants and associates of Netanyahu rejected the state prosecutors’ claims and demanded a state commission of inquiry.

“It seems that this is the tip of the iceberg for police spying against innocent Israelis. Therefore, only a state commission of inquiry can reveal the scope of the illegal police spying and produce a true investigation,” read a statement released to the media on behalf of Netanyahu.

This week’s scheduled sessions in the trial were postponed amid the controversy in order to allow for state prosecutors to complete an investigation into the claims.

Reports have swirled over the past two weeks that the Israel Police used spyware without judicial approval to target many activists and public officials, including figures central to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris arrive at the District Court in Jerusalem for a court hearing on February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Figures listed in a report in the Calcalist business daily who are associated with the trial and supposedly had their phones hacked are: Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and currently a top witness in Case 4000 against Netanyahu; Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister; Filber; Iris Elovitch; former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; and former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad, and other journalists at Walla.

An ongoing separate investigation, headed by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, along with former officials from the Shin Bet and Mossad and input from the NSO Group, is looking into whether police made use of spy software to break into the phones of the 26 people named last week in the explosive, unsourced report by the Calcalist newspaper.

Police initially denied illegally tapping into phones, but later appeared to indicate they found evidence suggesting this had been done.

Since the Calcalist report, Channel 12 news and other media outlets have pushed unsourced claims that the Calcalist report, itself unsourced, was mostly inaccurate and few people were actually hacked.

From left to right: Keren Terner Eyal, former director general of the Transportation Ministry; former Justice Ministry director general Emi Palmor; and Shai Babad, the former director general of the Finance Ministry. (Flash90)

On Wednesday, Channel 12 news reported that the probe headed by Marari had found that NSO’s Pegasus spyware was not used against three former directors of government ministries: Shai Babad, Keren Terner and Emi Palmor. The allegation that police used spyware to target the three former senior civil servants — none of whom is suspected of any criminal activity — was among the most incendiary elements of the Calcalist report.

The prime minister’s son, Avner Netanyahu, also named in the Calcalist report, was also not spied on, the Marari probe has reportedly established.

According to Channel 12, there were some individuals named by Calcalist who were subjected to police phone hacking via spyware, but they were suspected of criminal activity and the use of spyware was given judicial approval.

The Marari team is expected to soon present its findings to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

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