Netanyahu Aide Files Complaint, Says Police Illegally Searched His Phone

Jonatan Urich and others are suspected of witness tampering in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust

Jonatan Urich, April 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to the police on Wednesday that officers had searched his phone improperly, in violation of procedure. The day before, police admitted that the investigator who confiscated Jonatan Urich's phone did not tell him he could refuse.

Urich filed the complaint against the investigators from the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, Urich's lawyer, Noa Milstein, said.

“Even the police admit there were flaws in the investigation,” Milstein stated. “That is why we are confident that an external inquiry will prove that the investigation was illegal and therefore everything resulting from it is too.”

A Likud campaign staffer, Yaara Zered, was also at the 433 unit, either to be interrogated or simply to provide evidence.

Urich and others are suspected of witness tampering directed at former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber in the investigation known as Case 4000. In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for taking steps that benefited Bezeq telecommunications controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on Bezeq’s news site, Walla.

Four senior Likud campaign officials – Urich, media adviser Ofer Golan, creative director Israel Einhorn and another media adviser – are suspected of being responsible for a van with a loudspeaker being parked in front of Filber’s home and blaring accusations against him.

Filber was not home at the time and only learned about it from Twitter. Although he notified the police of the incident, he did not file an official police report.

On Twitter, Netanyahu called the confiscation of Urich's phone “a terror attack against Israeli democracy and the right to privacy that every citizen should enjoy.”

The offense of which Urich and Golan are accused is harassing a witness under aggravated circumstances, the maximum sentence for which is seven years in prison, police said Wednesday, but they had been questioned on suspicion of harassing Filber without aggravated circumstances. Representatives from the state said the two were aware of the activity near Filber's home and the examination of their phones was necessary to determine who sent the van there and who funded the activity.

The police acknowledged that an investigator had examined  correspondence between Golan and Yair Netanyahu, but claimed that Golan was asked if he consented to it and when he refused, the investigation was stopped.

Golan’s attorney Amit Hadad claimed in a letter send to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Tuesday that the investigator who confiscated Golan’s phone read his correspondence with Netanyahu’s son Yair and other emails. The emails have nothing to do with the Filber case, Hadad claimed.

The head of the state prosecutor's cybercrime department, Haim Weismonsky, appeared on Wednesday on behalf of the state at a hearing on the matter before Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Ala Masarwa. He admitted that at the time of the investigation against Urich and Golan, the police did not have an order allowing them to examine the phones, but added that they had agreed to this and even turned in the phones themselves.

Weismonsky said that Urich consulted with a lawyer before responding to a request to look in his phone. He argued that although the suspects did not give their written consent, this was not a "substantive flaw." Judge Masarwa rejected that argument. 

The judge said that the investigation conducted against Urich and Golan was flawed in that the police had not sought an order in advance to examine the phones and had not made it clear to the two that they had the right to refuse.

Chief Superintendent Tzahi Ben Hamo of the Economic Crime Unit of the police confirmed that the investigator who was looking at Urich's phone took pictures and saved messages, but added that she stopped doing so when the suspect asked her to.

In response to Urich's claim that the investigator sent the photographs to a secret group called "Completion in Case 4000," state representatives made it clear that no addional investigative work was underway in the case.

The police rejected claims that the investigation is being conducted unprofessionally, saying they did not intend to examine correspondence on the phones that was unrelated to the investigation. Furthermore, the Justice Ministry and police stated that seizing the phones was required for the purposes of the investigation.