Russian-born Israeli Suspected of Spying for the Soviet Union
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Russian-born Israeli Suspected of Spying for the Soviet Union

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A Russian-born Israeli businessman with important social, political and military connections was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for the Soviet Union, Israel television disclosed Sunday.

Shabbtai Kalmanovitz, 41, who emigrated from the USSR in the early 1970s, was ordered held in custody last month. The order was extended Sunday by a Jerusalem court, giving the news media and the public their first inkling of the bizarre case.

The court imposed a near total blackout of the police investigation. But Kalmanovitz is hardly unknown to Israelis and, lacking details of the charges against him or what led to his arrest, the news media nevertheless managed to piece together highlights of his eventful career.

Kalmanovitz was most recently in the news when he was arrested in England for allegedly passing bad checks. He was said to hold diplomatic status as an envoy of Boputhatswana, one of the black “independent” states within the boundaries of the Republic of South Africa.

In recent years, he had frequent clashes with the Foreign Ministry, which took a dim view of an Israeli citizen having contacts with a “puppet” state.

Kalmanovitz is known to have served in the Israel Defense Force. He held a junior position with the Labor Party for a time and worked with Soviet immigrant groups.


Later he flirted with the La’am party founded by Yigal Hurwitz, a former Likud finance minister. Kalmanovitz also became an impresario, organizing tours to Israel by the stars of the American television series “Starsky and Hutch” and the former Soviet ballet stars, the Panovs.

When that business collapsed, Kalmanovitz branched into a variety of activities, including brokering deals between Israelis and Bophuthatswana.

In 1977, he worked for Samuel Flatto-Sharon, the multi-millionaire fugitive from French justice who managed to get elected to a seat in the Knesset, where he served one term as one-man faction.

Kalmanovitz mingled with top political figures in the Knesset lobbies as Flatto-Sharon’s aide.

He was also closely and mysteriously involved in East-West spy-prisoner exchanges, on behalf of Flatto-Sharon. He reportedly negotiated with the well-known East German lawyer, Wolfgang Fogel. In 1978, he helped arrange exchanges involving an Israeli prisoner in Mozambique, Meron Markus; Allen Van Norman, an American held in East Berlin; and a Soviet spy, surnamed Thompson, held in the United States.

But this Sunday, Israeli politicians were quick to dissociate themselves from the suspect. Hurwitz, a minister without portfolio in the Labor-Likud coalition government, stressed his association with Kalmanovitz was short-lived.

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