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Deputy AG said to find 3 ex-ministry chiefs weren't targeted

Prosecutors say one witness in Netanyahu case spied on, but no reason to delay trial

State attorneys tell court that phone belonging to Shlomo Filber was hacked, but no relevant info used; separate investigation refutes bombshell Calcalist report on police hacking

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for a court hearing in his trial, November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Prosecutors in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial told the court on Wednesday that spyware was used by police to hack the phone of one witness in the case but that no material discovered was used and that proceedings should continue as scheduled.

State prosecutors told the Jerusalem District Court that the only person connected to the case who was spied on with the NSO Group’s Pegasus software was Shlomo Filber, the former director of the Communications Ministry and a key witness. Prosecutors claim that the spyware was activated on his phone for about a day but that no material relevant to the case was found.

The prosecutors’ submission was based on a police probe that included an examination of records involving 1,500 phone numbers associated with parties investigated in the three graft cases against Netanyahu, known as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.

Lawyers for the defendants and associates of Netanyahu rejected the state prosecutors’ claims and demanded a state commission of inquiry.

The examination focused on both standard wiretapping and the use of more “advanced” technologies, according to the prosecution’s update to the court.

The prosecution delivered an interim statement about the police check on Sunday.

This week’s scheduled sessions in the trial were postponed amid the controversy to allow for state prosecutors to complete an investigation into the claims.

Reports have swirled over the past two weeks that the Israel Police used spyware without judicial approval to target many activists and public officials, including figures central to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial. Supporters of Netanyahu argue that the allegations are a reason to toss out the entire case against him.

Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry, during a court hearing in the Supreme Court regarding the closing of the Israel Broadcasting Authorities, May 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Figures listed in a report in the Calcalist business daily who are associated with the trial and supposedly had their phones hacked 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; Filber, a former Communications Ministry director-general and a key state’s witness; 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 Case 4000, 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.

“We completely reject the claims of the prosecution and the police,” Netanyahu associates said in a statement released to Israeli media.

“It seems that this is the tip of the iceberg for police spying against innocent Israelis. Therefore, only a state commission of inquiry can reveal the scope of the illegal police spying and produce a true investigation,” they said.

Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris arrive at the District Court in Jerusalem for a court hearing on February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Elovitch’s lawyer Jacques Chen released a statement saying that the prosecution admitted the police illegally spied on a major figure in the case and tried to do so against Elovitch.

“These actions were hidden not just from the defenses, but also from the district court and the Supreme Court, which discussed the defense’s request to make the investigation materials public,” Chen said.

“Because the police knew of this grave matter the entire time and it was not disclosed to the defense nor the prosecution, we cannot trust anything else ‘submitted’ to the prosecution from the police regarding the investigation that it conducted and in which it was involved,” he added.

Netanyahu’s defense lawyers are expected to argue next week in court that the police report the prosecutors relied upon is not credible and that the trial should be delayed until a more in-depth probe into the allegations.

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

This investigation has found that many of the allegations in the original Calcalist news story were false, a Wednesday report said.

Channel 12 news reported that the probe headed by Marari has found that NSO’s Pegasus spyware was not used against three former directors of government ministries: Shai Babad, Keren Terner and Emi Palmor. The allegation that police used spyware to target the three former senior civil servants — none of whom is suspected of any criminal activity — was among the most incendiary elements of the Calcalist report.

From left to right: Keren Terner Eyal, former director general of the Transportation Ministry; former Justice Ministry director general Emi Palmor; and Shai Babad, the former director general of the Finance Ministry. (Flash90)

The prime minister’s son, Avner Netanyahu, also named in the Calcalist report, was also not spied on, the Marari probe has reportedly established.

According to Channel 12, there were some individuals named by Calcalist who were subjected to police phone hacking via spyware, but they were suspected of criminal activity and the use of spyware was given judicial approval.

The Marari team is expected to present its findings to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara later this week.

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