Netanyahu: Confiscation of Likud phones is an attack on Israeli democracy

Likud spokesman Yonatan Orich claims investigators looked at messages on his phone that were unrelated to their investigation into the alleged harassment of Shlomo Filber.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 3, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 3, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS)
During an interrogation regarding the possible harassment of Case 4000 state’s witness Shlomo Filber, investigators confiscated his phone, looked at conversations unrelated to the investigation and sent information to a Telegram channel related to the case, says Likud spokesman Jonathan Urich, Channel 12 reported.
Urich wrote in a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit: “Police investigators have also been looking at correspondence from my phone about things that are unrelated to the investigation regarding [Shlomo] Filber; the investigator typed details into a group that deals with Case 4000 files,” Channel 12 reported.
According to Channel 12 reporter Moshe Nussbaum, Urich was asked to show investigators conversations between him and communications consultant Ofer Golan.
Urich reportedly did not know he had the right to refuse the investigator’s request and handed over his phone, allowing her to take it outside of the interrogation room, according to Channel 12. When the investigator returned Urich’s phone, he noticed that messages unrelated to the investigation were opened and claims she wrote details based on information from his phone into a Telegram channel called “Completion of Case 4000.”
“The confiscation of our advisers’ phones is an attack on Israeli democracy and every citizen’s right to privacy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted following Urich’s claim.
On Monday, the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry released a joint statement explaining that an order requested from the court allowing a search of cellular phones confiscated from senior officials from the Likud Party’s headquarters was only for a limited search with the sole intention of finding information relevant to the incident about which the investigation is focused on. The judge will carry out the search for relevant material if possible and not the investigators.
The officials are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the harassment of Shlomo Filber, a state witness in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair.
“Contrary to mistaken publications, the search order being discussed will be focused strictly on finding information relevant to the investigation,” read the statement, which stressed that the confiscation of the cellphones was required due to clear necessities for the investigation.
The police clarified that the confiscated phones will only be opened with permission and an order from a court, according to Maariv.
Earlier Monday morning, attorney Dror Arad Ayalon, who represents Filber, responded to the announcement by the police about the investigation of the Likud officials.
“Filber didn’t feel harassed at the time and not even after the fact,” he said in an interview with Army Radio. “The demonstration in front of his house isn’t different from any other protest in front of the homes of functionaries.”
Earlier, the police announced that they were investigating suspicions that Filber had been harassed. In recent days, multiple officials have been investigated, including Golan and Urich, for involvement in the harassment of Filber. In August, a vehicle with a loudspeaker system drove along the street where he lives.
Netanyahu’s office released a statement on the investigation, stating: “The persecution does not stop for a moment.”
The statement continued, “The ink on the 1,000-page defense, which the prime minister’s lawyers submitted in the hearing, has not yet dried – and already, the entire immediate surroundings of the prime minister are being investigated.”
The prime minister’s comment claimed that the goal of the complaint is to neutralize Netanyahu’s ability to fight “public opinion” against a series of leaks against him, which harm him and his associates.
Netanyahu’s lawyer, Amit Hadad, released a statement on the complaint as well, saying that the allegations are “baseless” and that “it would be better if they are not investigated at all.”
“We have no doubt that in the end, the case against Mr. Golan will be closed for one simple reason: He has never harassed state witness Filber or any other witness,” the statement concluded.
According to Case 4000, Netanyahu fired Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger and hired Filber to ensure that government policies favored Bezeq company owner Shaul Elovitch.
In exchange, Bezeq’s news site Walla would give Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, positive coverage – arranged by Elovitch, his wife Iris, Hefetz, and several top employees of Walla.
Originally, this was considered to be a case of bribery in part, but Mandelblit is reportedly considering it to be a lighter crime, such as a breach of trust.
Yonah Jeremy Bob, Tamar Beeri and Rachel Wolf contributed to this report.