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Likelihood of state commission of inquiry said receding

Probe into alleged police phone hacking said to find no evidence of illegal activity

TV reports say only irregularity found in investigation led by deputy AG is in case of state witness Shlomo Filber, which police have acknowledged

Illustrative: A man holds his phone, with the NSO Group logo in the background. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A man holds his phone, with the NSO Group logo in the background. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A probe into allegations that police illicitly surveilled the phones of Israeli citizens has found no evidence of illegal actions, aside from an apparent irregularity in the investigation of a key witness in Benjamin Netanyahu’s graft trial, to which law enforcement has already admitted, according to reports Friday.

The probe, led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari along with former officials from the Shin Bet and Mossad, looked into 26 names included in Calcalist business daily’s report, who were allegedly targeted using NSO Group’s Pegasus program.

The investigatory team spent several hours at the Israel Police’s SIGINT (signals intelligence) headquarters in Jerusalem, reviewing the 26 names and hundreds more phone numbers, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Among the 26 names included in the report were Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister; Emi Palmor, the former director of the Justice Ministry; prominent businessman Rami Levy; Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and currently a top witness in the trial against Netanyahu; Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg; and Kiryat Ata Mayor Yaakov Peretz.

The probe has not uncovered any violations of the law, the report said, meaning either that the people listed in the Calcalist report never had their phones hacked, or that they were hacked with a valid court order.

A senior police official told Channel 12 news on Friday that the allegations made against the force were “despicable.” The Calcalist report has also been described by some analysts as “libelous” against former police commissioners Roni Alsheich and Motti Cohen.

According to the network, police attempted, but failed, to hack the phones of Feirberg, Peretz, and another person connected to Netanyahu’s criminal investigations, all with judicial authorization.

The only possible illegal hacking was regarding Shlomo Filber, a former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime confidant of Netanyahu, according to Hebrew-language television reports.

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Filber’s phone was reportedly accessed in 2017, and had the entirety of its content drained using unnamed spyware. 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 controversial NSO Group’s Pegasus software, though a different technology was used to access Filber’s phone.

Police brass told justice officials that the data was downloaded accidentally and was never given to investigators in the Netanyahu cases.

According to Channel 12 on Friday, however, police apparently went beyond what was permitted under the court’s authorization in the case of Filber.

With the current findings, a state commission of inquiry into the matter is seen as less likely, according to Friday’s television reports.

Marari’s probe is expected to publish its recommendations in the coming days. But it has also requested that NSO Group share its so-called audit logs with investigators, according to Channel 12.

According to an earlier Friday report, an Israeli cybersecurity company examined the phones of two of the 26 alleged targets of Israel Police spyware attacks, and believes that their devices were likely infiltrated with malware — though it is not known who by.

ZecOps, which specializes in phone hacking, examined the phones of Shai Babad, the former director-general of the Finance Ministry, and Keren Terner Eyal, also a former director-general of that ministry as well as the Transportation Ministry.

Channel 12, citing police sources, said Babad and Eyal may have been hacked by other actors outside of the force.

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