SYDNEY, Australia (Jul. 15)
New Zealand has imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel following the sentencing of two Israelis, accused of being Mossad agents, for fraudulently attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport. Uriel Zoshe Kelman, 31, and Eli Cara, 50, used the identity of a wheelchair-bound man suffering from cerebral palsy to apply for the passport. They pleaded guilty earlier this month to the charge of being part of a criminal group engaged in unlawfully attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport.
They were sentenced Thursday in Auckland’s High Court to six months’ imprisonment. They also have agreed to pay $65,000 to the Cerebral Palsy Association of New Zealand as a fine.
In a statement shortly after the verdict, New Zealand’s prime minister, Helen Clark, said “there were very strong reasons to believe that the two Israelis were acting on behalf of Israel’s intelligence service.”
“New Zealand condemns these actions by agencies! of the Israeli government,” she said. “The Israeli government was asked for an explanation and an apology three months ago. None has been received.”
Kelman and Cara denied that they worked for the Mossad. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel would try to restore diplomatic relations with New Zealand.
“We regret this response, but we think this decision is a decision that can be fixed,” Shalom said.
Clark said several sanctions would be imposed.
High-level visits to and from Israel will be suspended. Any approach by Israel for President Moshe Katsav to visit New Zealand, when he visits Australia later this year, will be declined.
Israelis visiting New Zealand in any official government capacity will be required to apply for visas. Foreign Ministry consultations with Israel, due later this year, will be suspended.
Approval for appointment of the new Israeli ambassador will be delayed and accreditation visits to Israel suspended. Officials from New Z! ealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as trade officials, will observe strict constraints on contact with Israel’s honorary consuls in the country.
Though no evidence was been offered to show that Cara and Kelman were Mossad agents, Clark said that “the breach of New Zealand laws and sovereignty by agents of the Israeli government has seriously strained our relationship with Israel.”
Israel’s acting ambassador in the area, Orna Sagiv, who is based in Canberra, Australia, told JTA, “I have studied her statement and, of course, Jerusalem has a copy. I am very sorry about the current situation, given the traditional friendly relations between the two countries. Israel values her relations with New Zealand and will do everything possible to restore them to normal.”
David Zwartz, president of the New Zealand Jewish Council and the honorary Israeli consul in New Zealand, said, “Prime Minister Clark has made an accusation without offering proof. I feel deeply affronted by it. I cannot understand the strength of this reaction.”
Ea! rlier this year, he said, it was discovered that false New Zealand passports were being produced in Thailand, but no diplomatic action was taken.
“Both Prime Minister and Clark and Foreign Minister Phil Goff declined our invitations this year to join us” at Israeli Independence Day celebrations in Wellington, he noted. “In previous years, we have always enjoyed the prime minister’s attendance when available.”
Cara had claimed to operate a travel agency in Sydney, where he had lived since 2001 with his wife and children. But journalists’ attempts to locate the agency proved fruitless.
Kelman told his investigators he acts as an adviser to European companies specializing in security, Ha’aretz reported.
Two other men were involved in the fraud. Zev William Barkan, who lived near the cerebral palsy sufferer and applied for the passport, fled New Zealand before the arrests were made and has not been seen since.
A fourth man remains unidentified.
On completi! on of their prison terms, Kelman and Cara will be deported, New Zealan d officials said.