Not just Filber: TV reports claim cops targeted phones of others in Netanyahu cases

One report says spyware ‘apparently’ also used on phone of fellow defendant Shaul Elovitch; court has given prosecutors until Tuesday to provide answers

A composite image of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and former Bezeq controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
A composite image of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and former Bezeq controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. (Flash90: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Other prominent figures involved in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial likely had their phones hacked by police investigators, Hebrew TV reports claimed Friday, a day after the networks revealed that police drained data from the phone of Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Minister director-general who is one of the key state’s witness in Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases against the ex-premier.

Channel 13 reported that a second defendant in Case 4000, Shaul Elovitch, “apparently” had his phone targeted by police spyware. Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm. In exchange, Netanyahu allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Channel 12, for its part, quoted an unnamed senior police official saying that an unspecified number of other people connected to the Netanyahu cases were hit by targeted by police using spyware. “The State Prosecutor’s Office was aware. It’s not just Filber. There are others, and everything was done with the approval and authorization [of the state prosecution],” the official was quoted saying, contradicting anonymous prosecution officials who have been quoted in recent days claiming that police investigators illicitly used phone hacking software without their knowledge.

Reports on Wednesday and Thursday that police in 2017 drained all the data from Filber’s phone have prompted the Jerusalem District Court, where Netanyahu is standing trial, to order state prosecutors to answer defense lawyers’ questions about the alleged abuse by Tuesday.

The court decided not to delay the next scheduled trial hearing on Monday. Filber’s testimony is due to begin in about two weeks’ time.

Netanyahu on Wednesday evening called the revelations an “earthquake.”

The faction leader of his Likud party, MK Yariv Levin, termed them “a giant Watergate affair, here in Israel” and called for the Netanyahu trial to be shut down.

Channels 12 and 13 both said the spyware reportedly used was either the NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus program or similar software.

It is not clear at this stage whether any data removed from Filber’s phone was conveyed to the Netanyahu investigators, whether it was obtained with the necessary judicial authorization, and how profoundly the matter will impact the trial.

Channel 12 had reported Thursday night that the discovery that Filber’s phone had been targeted was made in the course of an unrelated investigation, ordered by the attorney general, into alleged police abuse of the Pegasus software, but that a different technology was used to access Filber’s phone.

It is also unclear whether police have more widely and illicitly used the spyware in recent years.

Channel 12 said police have had hacking technology capable of draining all of the data on a phone since 2014 and have used it in hundreds of cases.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) sitting with then-PMO chief of staff Shlomo Filber, on February 21, 2018 (Screenshot/Channel 12 news)

The same network also reported that a criminal investigation into all the use of phone-hacking spyware by investigators is likely. At the moment, the matter is being probed by deputy attorney general Amit Merari. Police said in a statement Thursday that they would continue to “cooperate fully and transparently” with Merari’s team.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has reportedly ordered officers to go over every case in which the spyware was used in order to determine whether any laws were broken. He and other senior officers had previously denied there were any instances of police abuse of spyware in investigations.

Also Friday, Channel 13 reported that former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit blocked an effort by Public Security Minister Omer Barlev to establish an official government inquiry into the police’s use of NSO spyware against Israeli civilians, as was revealed last month by the Calcalist business daily. Senior ministers told the network that such an inquiry would likely take place eventually given the severity of the allegations. Mandelblit retired this week after six years in the post.

Netanyahu is on trial in three cases, having been indicted for fraud and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 2000, and for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies all wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution, led by a weak attorney general, backed by leftist politicians and the media.

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