TV show: Black Cube hired to smear Israeli Cabinet minister

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JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli investigative TV show reported on Thursday that one of the country's richest men hired Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube to dig up dirt on a Cabinet minister. Black Cube denied the allegations.

Tycoon Idan Ofer hired the firm in 2014 to dig up dirt on then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid and other top officials, Uvda reported, as part of his efforts to influence tax policy on natural gas finds at the time.

Ofer, a billionaire with vast holdings in shipping, drilling and mining industries, paid Black Cube to help him undermine an advisory panel appointed by Lapid that was aiming to raise taxes on his lucrative natural resources company, according to the TV investigation. The idea was to smear Lapid and the arbitrators in order to continue evading high taxes on his profits after Israel discovered a large offshore natural gas field.

Black Cube, a company of former Israeli intelligence agents, has drawn international attention for allegedly working to discredit Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as to protect the reputation of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Thursday's investigation also explored Black Cube's ties to former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who reportedly used the company's services to suppress opposition activists.

Black Cube denied the allegations, saying that it never met with Ofer or targeted politicians, judges or regulators. The company said it was suing the TV show and its anchor in a British court for 15 million pounds. A clerk at Britain's Royal Courts of Justice confirmed that a lawsuit had been filed but said he was barred from providing further details.

A spokesman for Ofer confirmed that he had contracted with the agency for a brief period, but said that Ofer ended up not using Black Cube's intel. He stressed that the company gathered evidence only from public sources.

Lapid, now co-leader of the opposition Blue and White party, said that nothing influences his decisions and he would "keep working without fearing anyone."

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