Secretive Black Cube sues Israeli investigative journalist for $19 million

Private intelligence firm files lawsuit in the UK after Ilana Dayan alleges it sought information to smear prominent Israelis, disrupt communications industry reform

Investigative journalist Ilana Dayan speaks at a conference at Jerusalem's International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Investigative journalist Ilana Dayan speaks at a conference at Jerusalem's International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Black Cube intelligence firm has filed a £15 million ($19 million) lawsuit in the UK against Israeli investigative journalist Ilana Dayan after she broadcast an exposé on some of the alleged workings of the secretive company.

Following the airing of Channel 12’s “Uvda” program on Thursday, in which Dayan claimed that one of Israel’s richest men hired Black Cube in 2014 to dig up dirt on Blue and White party No. 2 Yair Lapid, Dayan revealed fresh allegations on Friday, including an attempt to derail a reform in the communications sector and to discredit a leading Israeli businesswoman.

Black Cube, a company of former Israeli intelligence agents, has drawn international attention for allegedly working to discredit Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as to protect the reputation of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The company said it was suing the TV show and its anchor in a British court for £15 million. A clerk at Britain’s Royal Courts of Justice confirmed that a lawsuit had been filed but said he was barred from providing further details.

Dayan on Friday said the lawsuit was an attempt to “silence” her.

In the fresh allegations broadcast Friday, Dayan said Black Cube agents had been hired by the nation’s largest telecom provider, Bezeq, to try and derail 2014’s so-called Wholesale Market Reform, which introduced serious telecommunications competition for the company.

According to Dayan, in March 2014 an international consulting firm hired by Israel’s Communications Ministry was invited to a meeting in the Dorcherster Hotel in London, where the company was allegedly pressed by Black Cube agents in an attempt to try and discredit it and disrupt the reform.

Bezeq did not deny the report to Channel 12, but said that sort of behavior was no longer acceptable within the company and belonged to a different time. Black Cube denied it had worked to stymie any reforms.

“The company operates only within a business and legal framework and always according to the law. Black Cube was never hired to torpedo any reforms,” Black Cube said in a statement to Channel 12. “The company would never approach a minister or a person in an official position.”

Efforts to stymie the reform are also at the heart of the Case 4000 investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though the two are apparently unrelated, “Uvda” noted.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for extension of his remand in Case 4000, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

In the case the attorney general has announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery, pending a hearing.

Dayan also reported Friday that an unnamed business official had once hired Black Cube to work against one of Israel’s richest and most powerful women, Ofra Strauss, of the billion-dollar food company Strauss Group.

Documents exposed by the report said Black Cube would try to “identify misconduct and conflicts in the professional and private lives of the individuals” and “find further possible leverage points.”

Dayan noted that it is not clear if Black Cube eventually acted against Strauss.

Dayan quoted sources close to Strauss as saying she was angered, but not surprised by the revelations.

Israeli business woman Ofra Strauss at a conference in Jerusalem March 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In Thursday’s report, Dayan alleged that tycoon Idan Ofer at one point hired the firm to probe then-finance minister Lapid and other top officials as part of Ofer’s efforts to influence tax policy on natural gas finds.

Ofer, a billionaire with vast holdings in shipping, drilling and mining industries, reportedly paid Black Cube to help him undermine an advisory panel appointed by Lapid that was aiming to raise taxes on his lucrative natural resources company, according to the TV investigation. The idea was to smear Lapid and the arbitrators in order to evade high taxes on profits.

Thursday’s investigation also explored Black Cube’s ties to former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who reportedly used the company’s services to suppress opposition activists.

Black Cube denied the allegations, saying that it never met with Ofer or targeted politicians, judges or regulators.

Israeli tycoon Idan Ofer, left, and Blue and White party no. 2 Yair Lapid, right. (Moshe Shai/Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A spokesman for Ofer confirmed that he had contracted the agency for a brief period, but said that the Israeli tycoon ended up not using Black Cube’s intel. He stressed that the company gathered evidence only from public sources.

Lapid said in response that he could not be swayed by an influence campaign and he would “keep working without fearing anyone.”

AP contributed to this report

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