Israel Threatened, Spied on ICC Chief Prosecutor: Report

Fatou Bensouda reportedly feared for her safety amid intimidation campaign
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2024 9:13 AM CDT
Israel Threatened, Spied on ICC Chief Prosecutor: Report
Israel's head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016.   (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel's foreign intelligence agency led a nearly decade-long covert "war" against the International Criminal Court, which included threatening the chief prosecutor in a failed effort to keep her from investigating alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories, according to a joint investigation by the Guardian, +972 Magazine, and the Local Call. Yossi Cohen, the former head of the Mossad, allegedly tried for years to intimidate Fatou Bensouda, who launched a preliminary investigation into alleged Israeli crimes in 2015, before opening an official investigation in 2021. That investigation was continued by Bensouda's successor, Karim Khan, and culminated this week in an arrest warrant for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In announcing the developments, Khan warned he would not hesitate to prosecute "attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence" ICC officials.

Khan's office said it faced "several forms of threats and communications that could be viewed as attempts to unduly influence its activities." It's unclear if those are related to Bensouda. According to the Guardian, Cohen threatened the prosecutor and even obtained transcripts of secret recordings of her husband in an effort to influence or discredit her. "You should help us and let us take care of you. You don't want to be getting into things that could compromise your security or that of your family," Cohen allegedly told her at one point. The Mossad also allegedly listened in on Bensouda's private exchanges with Palestinian officials and ultimately left her fearing for her safety, reports +972. It suggests some 60 people linked to the probe were under Israeli surveillance.

The influence campaign didn't work. Bensouda briefed senior ICC officials about Cohen's attempts to pressure her, the Guardian reports. Legal experts say those attempts could amount to new offenses. Article 70 of the Rome Statute of the ICC states the court has jurisdiction over offenses against the administration of justice, including "impeding, intimidating or corruptly influencing an official of the Court for the purpose of forcing or persuading the official not to perform, or to perform improperly, his or her duties." One of the Guardian's sources says Cohen was serving as Netanyahu's "unofficial messenger." "He was a loyal and powerful ally of the prime minister at the time," the Guardian notes. In a statement, a rep for Netanyahu's office describes the allegations as "false and unfounded" and "meant to hurt the state of Israel." (More Israel stories.)

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