An unknown cyber firm paid hundreds of thousands of shekels to a business intelligence company to spy on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief political rival — Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz — ahead of Israel's national election on March 2, TheMarker has learned.
Businessman Rafael (Vladislav) Waizman, 34, from Petah Tikva is the owner and sole stockholder of Armor Cyber BI & Consulting, which was established before Israel's general election on April 9, 2019.
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Attorney Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu's close associate, suggested using the name of Armor Cyber BI & Consulting – which has appeared several times on social media since 2014 – to pay business intelligence firm CGI Group for spying on Gantz. But the legal entity (the company itself) was founded, according to the Government Corporations Authority, on January 14, 2019 – just three weeks before the Israeli parliament dissolved itself ahead of the first round of election out of three within a year.
The company, its website says, provides strategic consulting and cybersecurity services. The website doesn't list any of the company's employees.
Moreover, the website lists the sixth floor of an office building at 24 Hanagar Street in the Neveh Neeman industrial zone in Hod Hasharon as the company's address. However, a visit to the site revealed that the company does not occupy offices in the building.
Furthermore, the company’s name and logo are not known to the employees of the company that does occupy the offices on the sixth floor of the building, nor is the building’s security guard, who says he’s been working there for two years, familiar with the company.
The phone number on the company’s website connects the caller to Waizman's cellphone. The number is identical to the number of a store that sells printers telecommunications equipment, Black and Color, which is also owned by Waizman and is located in a Tel Aviv suburb.
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Waizman, who is virtually unknown within Israel's cyber community, declined to answer TheMarker’s inquiries about his connection to Netanyahu's associate or to the Likud party's election campaign. He was also unwilling to explain why he had transferred a six-figure payment to an intelligence company for spying on Gantz.
The payment: Alleged breach of the law
Last week TheMarker reported that Cohen was behind the initiative to hire CGI to dig up dirt on Gantz. Cohen contacted one of CGI's owners, private investigator Zvi Naveh, with whom he maintains friendly ties, and asked him to collect incriminating or embarrassing information on Gantz for Likud to use in its election campaign. TheMarker also uncovered that additional associates of the prime minister were aware of the talks between Cohen and Naveh.
CGI's co-owner, former Shin Bet security service chief and Yesh Atid lawmaker Jacob Perry, was forced to retire from politics in 2018 following a series of investigative television reports alleging improprieties in his former role as head of the Shin Bet and about his military service.
Cohen was also the liaison between CGI and Armor Cyber BI & Consulting, by which CGI was to obtain the contractual agreement signed between Gantz and the PR company of his political strategist, Ronen Tzur. Cohen’s working assumption was that there was a clause in the agreement requiring a specific person to be hired – information that could hurt Gantz and serve the Likud campaign. It remains unclear whether CGI was able to obtain the agreement or confirm the claims that Netanyahu’s people wanted to publish.
According to the information obtained by TheMarker, Waizman wasn't at all involved in commissioning the job, and came into play only to transfer the payment to CGI. Cohen and Netanyahu’s associates presented Waizman’s company as Likud’s computing company. But Waizman and Likud spokesman Jonathan Uric declined to comment whether Armor Cyber BI & Consulting is in any way connected to the party.
The Party Financing Law explicitly states that parties must pay their own campaign costs, including hiring suppliers. Whether the money paid to CGI came from Likud and Armor Cyber BI & Consulting was only employed as a means to transfer the money, or whether the company itself paid for the operation against Gantz, it seems that delivering payment through a private firm is ostensibly a breach of the law.
Following TheMarker's report, Kahol Lavan on Thursday demanded State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman to launch a probe into the alleged breach of the Party Financing Law. The state comptroller’s office has not yet responded to Kahol Lavan's request.
In the September 17 vote, CGI was hired by Kahol Lavan to investigate whether Gantz’s phone had been hacked. The intelligence company charged Kahol Lavan hundreds of thousands of shekels and submitted a report expressing concern that Gantz’s phone and those of other senior officials were indeed breached. The report was leaked to the media, sparking a high-profile dispute between CGI and Kahol Lavan regarding the reliability of the report and the circumstances leading to its publication.
Netanyahu’s office, Naveh and Cohen declined to comment on this report.
Waizman’s connection to politics
Waizman's only connection to politics is his brother, Mike, a 41-year-old media consultant from the southern city of Ashdod.
Mike has been working for many years in the fields of journalism, spokesmanship and media. In 2018 he was a prominent activist for keeping business open on Shabbat in Ashdod and he was even arrested on suspicion of writing on Facebook that he would “burn” Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri.
In addition to his political activity, in recent years Waizman has served intermittently as a reporter for the local paper Kan Ashdod. Despite serving as spokesman for Ashdod Deputy Mayor and Yisrael Beiteinu member Shimon Katznelson, Waizman has covered issues involving the city council.
In the April 2019 election, Mike Waizman was hired by Kahol Lavan and was the administrator of the party’s Russian-language Facebook page. Waizman's acquaintance told TheMarker that the ties between Kahol Lavan and Waizman ended on a sour note over financial issues. Today Mike Waizman is employed by the Tel-Aviv based PR firm Public Line.
Mike Waizman has recently posted on Facebook that he had consulted the family of Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman who was jailed in Russia over drug charges in a high-profile case and was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin at Netanyahu's request.
Mike Waizman declined to comment on this report.