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Israeli citrus company cited for violating Helms-Burton Act

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (JTA) – An Israeli citrus company owned by a former Mossad official has been sanctioned by the United States for doing business in Cuba on land expropriated from Americans. The State Department announced this week that officials of the company, BM Group, will be barred from U.S. territory as a result of the company’s violation of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The law mandates sanctions against any foreign national who is deemed to be using property confiscated from Americans in Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The BM Group is owned by Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad official who reportedly was involved in the Jonathan Pollard affair. Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel. Eitan headed a secret intelligence unit out of the prime minister’s office which recruited and oversaw Pollard’s spying activities for Israel from 1984-1986, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported. Eitan has not been in the United States for more than a decade out of fear that he might be detained for questioning regarding the Pollard affair, according to sources quoted by Ha’aretz. Spokesman Lee McClenny said the State Department sent letters Nov. 13 telling corporate officers of the company that they were in violation of the act. As a result, those officers, along with their spouses, minor children and representatives will be denied U.S. visas and excluded from entering the United States for 45 days from the date of the letters. State Department officials did not provide the names of the individuals affiliated with the company who will be barred entry to the United States. Israeli officials only said that some of the company’s officers were Israeli citizens. The BM Group, which has no operations in Israel, is the third foreign company to be penalized under the act. The United States has previously cited a Canadian mining company and a Mexican telephone company to be in violation of the law. Israel, for its part, has consistently backed the U.S. position on Helms-Burton and U.S. efforts to keep Castro’s government economically isolated. “Israel supports the American policy toward Cuba,” a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said. Israel “is one of the countries that always votes with the U.S. in the different U.N. discussions on the issue.” Last month, when the United Nations passed a resolution calling on the Clinton administration to end its economic embargo of Cuba, only Israel and Uzbekistan joined with the United States in voting against it. (JTA correspondent Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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