Netanyahu prosecutors say witness phone was hacked with 'spyware'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu GALI TIBBON POOL:AFP:File

Prosecutors in former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial said Wednesday that "spyware" hacked one witness's phone but no relevant material was uncovered and urged the trial to go ahead.

The Jerusalem district court had ordered prosecutors to conduct an audit on the potential use by investigators of the controversial Pegasus malware, made by Israel's NSO group, following media reports Pegasus has been used against multiple figures in the case.

The prosecution's disclosure did not directly mention Pegasus, the program reportedly used on journalists, dissidents and activists worldwide. It can switch on a phone's camera or microphone and harvest its data.

According to the disclosure, the phone of former communications ministry director general Shlomo Filber had been penetrated with judicial approval.

Filber is accused of mediating between Netanyahu and the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecom firm, Shaul Elovitch, as the sides reportedly plotted to exchange regulatory favours for positive coverage on a news site owned by the firm.

Filber, once a close Netanyahu ally, agreed to testify against the former prime minister, in what was seen a crucial development in the police investigation.

Netanyahu's defense lawyers reacted angrily to the prosecution disclosure, condemning "illegal investigative actions carried out against witnesses" in the trial.

It described Filber as an "essential witness" against Netanyahu, and demanded to know what "private and personal information" was extracted from his phone by investigators before he agreed to testify.

Prosecutors also said an unsuccessful attempt was made, with proper authorization, to plant a spyware on the phone of Shaul Elovitch's wife, Iris. The couple are co-defendants in the Netanyahu case.

Netanyahu, prime minister from 2009 until last year, has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, allegations he denies.

His high-profile trial has been rocked by the allegations of Pegasus spying on witnesses, while the reported use of the malware across Israeli society had sparked domestic outrage.

The business daily Calcalist has reported that Pegasus was used against dozens of prominent figures, including powerful bureaucrats, activists, mayors and business leaders.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has promised a full investigation into all alleged espionage against Israeli citizens.

© 2022 AFP