JERUSALEM (Jun. 23)
The usually friendly relations between Israel and South Africa suffered a blow this week when South Africa accused two Israeli diplomats of smuggling foreign currency out of the country on behalf of South African Jews.
Hundreds of thousands of South African rands were reportedly deposited in the bank accounts of reserve Brig. Hagai Regev, head of the Defense Ministry delegation to South Africa, and embassy officer Aharon Dagan.
Regev left South Africa several months ago and Dagan was allowed to leave Tuesday, after posting 1,000,000 rand (about $250,000) as bail.
South Africa filed an official complaint with Israel that its diplomats were using their diplomatic immunity to smuggle foreign currency.
But sources here said the two men had acted on their own initiative and that the state had nothing to do with it.
Foreign currency regulations in South Africa are particularly strict, and the authorities are becoming even more sensitive to foreign currency smuggling as the time for the transition to power sharing with the black majority draws closer.
Ironically, Israel is the only country to which the South Africans have permitted the transfer of foreign currency, albeit at limited sums.
According to a report Wednesday in the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Achronot, $143,000 was found in Regev’s private Johannesburg bank account and $285,000 was found in Dagan’s account.
Both deposits were reportedly the money of local Jews who wanted to smuggle it out of the country.
A third Israeli, Dov Lavie, a Jewish Agency emissary, was detained last week on similar charges. He was released after the disputed money was confiscated.
South Africa submitted its official complaint to Alon Liel, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa. Liel reportedly assured the South Africans that measures would be taken against the emissaries, stressing that they had acted at their own initiative.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Wednesday that an investigation would be launched into the matter.
If the two had violated South African laws, said Rabin, measures would be taken. He did not elaborate.
Regev served as Rabin’s military secretary when Rabin was defense minister.