Police search of Netanyahu aides’ cellphones delayed
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Police search of Netanyahu aides’ cellphones delayed

AG said to take severe view of alleged harassment by Likud officials of witness in graft case implicating PM: ‘This is not trolling’

(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli court on Thursday ruled in favor of a request from top aides of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay a police search of their cellphones.

The ruling by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court granted Ofer Golan and Jonatan Urich an additional week to file an appeal against their phones being searches.

Likud spokesman Urich and Golan, the party’s campaign manager and Netanyahu family spokesman, are under investigation for allegedly harassing a state’s witness in a corruption case implicating the prime minister.

The two have filed complaints with the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department over the police’s searching of their phones after they were called in for questioning in the probe.

On Wednesday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court approved limited police searches of the phones but ordered them conducted under close judicial supervision. In his ruling, Judge Ala Masarwa said there were significant flaws in police’s handling of the case, namely the search and seizure of the phones without court approval.

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

Along with two other Likud officials, Golan and Urich are suspected of harassing Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of Netanyahu who led Likud’s campaign in the 2015 elections.

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

The Likud officials are suspected of sending a van to Filber’s home with loudspeakers, blasting allegations he lied about the case.

The search of the phones has been strongly criticized by Likud politicians and Netanyahu, who called it “a terror attack against Israeli democracy and every citizen’s right to privacy.”

According to a Channel 12 news report Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit viewed the allegations against the Netanyahu aides as severe.

“This is not trolling or a prank but rather a conspiracy to troll a state’s witness under aggravated circumstances in an especially sensitive case,” the network quoted associates of Mandelblit as saying.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference outside Tel Aviv, September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Monday, Mandelblit 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 reported Monday.

Senior Likud members have recently stepped up their accusations that Netanyahu is being unfairly pursued by the legal system in a trio of criminal cases against him. 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 denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt involving the opposition, the media, the police and state prosecutors.

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