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Netanyahu: An earthquake; police acted illegally to oust me

Police hacked phone of key individual in Netanyahu cases without approval — report

Likud faction chief: Revelations are ‘a giant Watergate affair, here in Israel’; data, said found by investigators checking into NSO affair, included photos, texts, phone numbers

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Police hacked into the phone of a key person involved in the criminal cases against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and extracted a large amount of data, Hebrew media reported on Wednesday.

According to Channel 12, the person may have been Shlomo Filber, a former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime confidant of Netanyahu who is a state’s witness in Case 4000.

In the case, the most severe of the three cases against him, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials. In exchange, he allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Channel 12 aired patchy voice recordings in which police investigators seem to be discussing hacking a person’s phone, just before conducting an interview with Filber.

The reports come as police reel from accusations that they have repeatedly used hacking software from the NSO Group and others to break into citizens’ phones illegally.

The report did not say whether NSO’s Pegasus program was allegedly used in this case.

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 13 reported that the revelation was made as part of an ongoing Justice Ministry inquiry into the NSO affair.

The data retrieved included photos, texts, phone numbers and more, and was taken without a court order, the report alleged.

The network said police have told justice officials that the matter is being looked into, but that the material remained in the tech unit and was not handed over to investigators in the case or to prosecutors.

Channel 13 noted that the discovery could cause serious delays in Netanyahu’s trial, as the opposition leader’s lawyers may demand to review the new revelations and take action over them.

If the phone belonged to a witness who has already testified, the attorneys for the relevant defendants can request a retrial. If it is a witness who did not testify, the attorneys may request a postponement in order to review the material properly, all subject to a court decision.

The revelation could also erode the prosecution’s credibility with the court, and empower Netanyahu to seek an improved plea bargain.

Police said in response to the recording brought by Channel 12 that it would not comment on audio “that allegedly shows police officers whose identities are unknown and cannot be found out.”

Lawyers for co-defendant and Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch said that if the report is true, it would represent “a grave crime,” and that there would be serious consequences in court.

Netanyahu tweeted: “An earthquake: This evening it was revealed that police illegally hacked phones in order to bring down a strong right-wing prime minister.”

Likud’s Knesset faction chief Yariv Levin termed the revelations “a giant Watergate affair, here in Israel.”

The former prime minister faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in case 1000 and 2000, and charges of 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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