Netanyahu’s prosecutors say no illicit hacking by police found, but questions remain

Investigators ask for three more days to provide information on whether spyware was used, with judges set to decide whether to further postpone proceedings in trial of ex-PM

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing on a lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing on a lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)

State prosecutors said Sunday in an interim statement that a police check turned up no evidence that officers wiretapped phones without a warrant during their investigation of alleged misdeeds by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, the prosecution, in a letter to the Jerusalem District Court, did not comment on how and how many warrants were executed and, critically, whether spyware had been employed against the subjects of investigations.

Prosecutors relied on “information provided by competent authorities within the Israel Police” to check about 1,500 phone numbers associated with parties investigated in the three graft cases against Netanyahu, known as cases 1000, 2000, and 4000. The check focused on both standard wiretapping and the use of more “advanced” technologies, according to the prosecution’s update to the court.

The list of 1,500 numbers was compiled from the list of existing search orders, as well as phone numbers belonging to parties followed in the investigation.

No information was provided on the subset of phones within the 1,500 that were searched or listened to, only to say that the police confirmed that all phones touched by the investigation had a court order attached to them.

“No actions were taken when there was no court order,” the prosecution told the court, which last week ordered a hiatus in the trial proceedings in order to investigate claims of widespread illicit hacking by police using NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus software, among other advanced technologies.

The NSO Group logo is seen on a smartphone placed on a laptop keyboard. (Mundissima/Alamy)

The prosecution requested three more days to complete its check, which is expected to answer questions “related to the manner in which the [court] orders issued were used,” according to the prosecution’s letter to the court.

In a statement following the state prosecution’s announcements, the defense attorneys in the trial said that “the prosecution admits that it spied on civilians. No order authorized the police to use spyware. The prosecution has not yet provided the required information — who was hacked and to what extent.”

Meannwhile heads of the Knesset’s opposition parties rejected the prosecution’s statement, calling it an “attempt to silence the scandal regarding the spying on Israeli citizens,” and called for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the affair.

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 the police made use of spy software to break into the phones of 26 people named last week in an explosive, unsourced report by the Calcalist newspaper.

Some of the names listed in that report were also checked ahead of the latest update to the court, because they were involved in the police investigation into Netanyahu.

Figures listed in the Calcalist report associated with the trial 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; Shlomo Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq (both are defendants in Case 4000); former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad, and other journalists at Walla.

In that case, one of the three graft cases for which the former prime minister is on trial, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch. In exchange, Netanyahu allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site. The former premier denies the charges against him.

The Jerusalem District Court postponed two hearings last week to allow investigators to look into the hacking claims, and Netanyahu’s attorneys filed a petition last week calling for a pause in the trial.

Judges are set to deliberate over when to resume proceedings in the case.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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