Prosecution in Netanyahu trial: No police spying without court orders

The prosecution in Benjamin Netanyahu's trial asked for three more days to add information.

 Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The state prosecution on Sunday informed the Jerusalem District Court presiding over the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there was no illegal police cell phone hacking without court orders.

However, at the same time, the prosecution requested that the judges grant it an extension until Wednesday to fully report regarding those instances in which the police did use or try to use some version of Pegasus software legally.

State prosecutors also asked for the same extension to respond to defense lawyers’ demands for a larger report, including all original and classified materials related to the issues.

It has been known for a week that the police used technology to hack the cellphone of former top Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber.

Last week, the prosecution claimed that this was only done after a court order had already granted the police access to Filber’s cellphone, which he had handed over to law enforcement.

 Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum, February 7, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum, February 7, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The debate now shifts to how much the police hacking of his cellphone went beyond the court order and whether that had any impact on the trial.

The prosecution on Sunday said that there had been no impact on the trial and added that it has had access to NSO Groups’ analysis of the issue.

Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to assist Deputy Attorney-General Amit Marari in double-checking answers provided by the police.

Despite all of the above, the defense is unlikely to take the state’s word for it.

There is also an increasing likelihood that some attempt was discussed or made to hack defendant Iris Elovitch’s cellphone, and possibly that of one other person associated with the trial.

Iris is the wife of Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, and was allegedly directly involved in facilitating the media bribery scheme.

Part of the reason the prosecution asked for a delay was to undertake a process with the Public Security Ministry to declassify and censor certain items being produced for the defense and the public.

According to the prosecution, the review covered over 1,500 cellphones of persons connected with Case 1000 (the Illegal Gifts Affair); Case 2000 (the Yediot Aharonot-Yisrael Hayom Affair); case 4000 (the Bezeq-Walla Affair); Case 1270 (the Attorney-General Bribery Affair, which was closed); and “old Case 1000” (the alleged illegal gifts that were closed and left out of the indictment).

The Likud and the other right-wing parties in the opposition released a joint statement rejecting the findings of the task force Bennett appointed. The parties called for the immediate formation of a state commission of inquiry to investigate police spying in Israeli citizens.

“The citizens of Israel are still waiting to find out who was spied on, how much, who ordered it and who was in on the secret,” the parties said. “The police cannot investigate themselves in a shallow manner with no one questioned under caution.”

LAWYERS FOR the defendants demeaned the prosecution as repeatedly failing to be able to come out straight and admit that it was illegally hacking persons involved in the case, as well as when and who ordered it.

The trial has been stalled since Monday of last week when cable authority legal adviser Dana Neufeld’s testimony was halted in the middle, after the sides ran into disagreements about whether the prosecution could ask her about texts she received from Filber.

The defense said that not only could Filber not testify until the cloud of alleged illegal police spying was removed, but also that no witness could be asked about anything coming from his cellphone.

At the same time, the government and the police have been signaling a counter-attack since the end of last week to clear the police of most of the charges in the spying scandal alleged by the Calcalist business newspaper.

Even on Monday of last week, the court’s initial instinct was to continue hearing witnesses, such that the defense may have the harder job of convincing the court to halt the trial much beyond a week or so of debate over the prosecution’s explanations.

Meanwhile, on Sunday night, former police chief Roni Alsheich gave his first live response to the police spying scandal at a Reichman University conference honoring Ariel Sharon.

After providing perspective on his role as a senior Shin Bet official during the IDF’s 2002 Defensive Shield operation in the West Bank, he was asked to address current events.

He said the prosecution’s “oversight is super-tight, justifiably so... everything is approved in writing and audited 1,000%.”

He criticized those attacking him and law enforcement as having their facts wrong constantly, saying, “There is no Pegasus for the police – that is an insult to Pegasus,” implying that law enforcement has a much less powerful tool.

Alsheich explained that the police cyber tools are much more limited in what they can analyze and how far back in time they can look than Pegasus, emphasizing that judges sometimes gave law enforcement wider latitude to search, but all of this depended on the court order.

He said he trusted the police during his era of 2015-2018, and that those who came after him had broadly followed the rules, such that, “I am not saying that there might not have been a small number of errors, but there was no broad chaos” as described by Calcalist.

“The story is spin and someone will pay,” he concluded.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.