SYDNEY, Australia (Feb. 17)
Shortly after the Israeli consul in Australia was asked to leave the country, his replacement’s appointment has been put on hold because of a sex scandal during an earlier posting. Arie Scher had been chosen to replace Amir Lati, who returned to Israel in December in response to a request from Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs.
When Scher’s posting was made public, however, Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper dredged up Scher’s involvement in a sex scandal several years ago, when he was a consul in Brazil.
JTA reported at the time that Rio de Janeiro police searched Scher’s apartment after he was photographed naked in the company of underage girls, reportedly finding pornographic videos and more than 100 pictures of young girls in compromising positions. Scher was recalled to Israel.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told JTA that a thorough investigation of Scher’s activities in Brazil had been concluded a long time ago. According to Ha’aretz, Scher was not found guilty of a crime but was reprimanded for inappropriate behavior.
“He was a single man then but has now been married for over a year,” Regev added. “We have full confidence in Scher. He is a professional diplomat.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has decided to take a second look at the circumstances surrounding Scher’s activities and has put his posting to Australia on hold, though Israel’s public servants’ union is petitioning for the posting to be upheld.
Regev said a decision could take a month.
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Australian governments remain tight-lipped about Lati’s expulsion in late December. Media reports have focused on two main theories.
Speculation was rife that Lati might have been involved in an alleged Mossad ring following the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of two Israelis in New Zealand for fraudulently attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport. New Zealand parliamentarians openly accused Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara of being Mossad members.
The two completed short prison sentences and returned to Israel, but sanctions imposed by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark remain in place, banning high-level Israeli diplomats from visiting the country.
The focus of the rumors shifted to Canberra when a newspaper, The Australian, reported that Lati, 32, had had an affair with a staff member of the Australian Defense Ministry.
The Australian Jewish News reported that Lati confirmed he had met Caitlin Ruddock, 26, the daughter of Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock, six years ago in Beijing, where both were students. Lati resumed his friendship with Caitlin Ruddock when he arrived in Australia in 2003.
Sources close to Lati told the Jewish paper that following the request for his repatriation in mid-December, Lati was forced to remain in Canberra and passed up an invitation to join the Ruddock family for Christmas lunch at their Sydney home.
Lati left Australia on Dec. 28. Lati says his friendship with the Caitlin Ruddock may have been connected to his expulsion.
Philip Ruddock’s position as attorney general makes him the government minister responsible for Australia’s intelligence organization, which would have been involved in any investigation concerning the Israelis captured in New Zealand. Cara allegedly ran a business in Sydney and lived there with his wife and children, though no one has been able to locate the business.
Charlie McKillop, a spokesman for Ruddock, told JTA, “The association between Caitlin and Mr. Lati concerns the Ruddock family personally and not diplomatically. Consequently, as it is a private affair, the minister has no comment to make. Lati’s friendship with a member of Mr. Ruddock’s family has no relevance on his departure from the country.”
Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Lati “did nothing wrong. He will get another overseas posting soon.”
Meanwhile, Israel has sent a newly appointed ambassador to Australia. Nati Tamir told JTA, “I just want to get on with maintaining the wonderful relationship Australia has with Israel and put these incidents behind us.”