By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
The Pegasus phone spying police scandal keeps growing as one of the persons of interest in the corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was allegedly targeted, as reported by News1 on Sunday.
According to the exclusive report, tycoon James Packer, who was fingered in the so-called Illegal Gifts affair known as Case 1000, allegedly had his phone illegally wiretapped by the Israeli police during the pre-indictment investigation stage.
One of the alleged purposes of the eavesdropping was to find out whether Packer received requests from the former prime minister, his family, or aides to change his story about the expensive presents given to the Netanyahus, possibly in exchange for improper favors. The report said that unnamed Netanyahu confidantes were also targeted by the police’s secret cyber unit for the same reason.
The suspected crime, in this case, would be obstruction of justice, which is when someone acts in a way to intentionally impede or interfere with a government investigation or prosecution.
The police spyware was used to search the victims’ cellphones and computers and to listen in on their conversations. In Packer’s case, his phone was allegedly tapped while he was abroad as well, without any legal authority whatsoever, said the report.
The time period under question predates the period that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would investigate. He asked Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to turn over to his office all phone-tapping warrants from 2020-2021.
Yet reports are steadily surfacing of more incidents involving the police cyber division’s use of Pegasus in a questionable – and perhaps criminal – manner during the time of Shabtai’s predecessor, Roni Alsheikh, who closely oversaw much of the Netanyahu investigation.
Calcalist, the newspaper that uncovered the spyware story, found that the software was planted in the phones of many people during Alsheikh’s term in an attempt to fish for incriminating information – before any official police investigation was launched. In two examples, judges were asked for court orders permitting search warrants and wiretapping only after the phones of two mayors were tapped and nothing was found.
Their wives’ phones were tracked as well. Arrests were made, searches conducted, friends and aides questioned – and the cases were closed due to lack of evidence.
It is not clear how far back the alleged misuse of the NSO company’s spyware goes, but it was bought by police in 2013.
Shabtai, who became police chief a year ago, said that the Israel Police would fully cooperate with Mandelblit and make its own inquiries as well.
While Mandelblit told the police that “it is difficult to overstate the severity of the alleged harm to basic rights” if the allegations are true, he only asked for records going back two years, seemingly letting Alsheikh off the hook.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has already asked the attorney general to ban the police use of Pegasus immediately and to reopen any cases involving evidence obtained through the invasive software.