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Arts & Culture Attorney Puts Experience to Work in Writing Thriller About Israeli Agent

July 15, 2005
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Many years ago an attorney working for the U.S. Department of Justice was physically attacked outside a bank while on assignment in Europe. In shock and soaked in his own blood, he took a cab to the airport to take the first flight out. A few hours later he landed in Reykjavik, Iceland. Quick thinking and impulsiveness were not new qualities for Israeli-born Haggai Carmon, who has been the only attorney to represent the U.S. government in its Israeli civil litigation, such as customs and art-ownership disputes between the two countries, since 1985. But it was the memory of that particular incident that inspired his first novel, “Triple Identity,” which recently made its debut in American bookstores.

Originally written in English, “Triple Identity” was translated into Hebrew and first published in Israel by Yediot Achronot in late 2003.

The book is based on Carmon’s experience as an outside consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice assigned to asset recovery and intelligence gathering in multinational, multimillion-dollar cases over the past two decades.

“It has always been a realization that the adventures that I’ve been going through were so remote from what I thought would be a practice of law,” says Carmon, 60.

Dan Gordon, the protagonist of “Triple Identity,” is an Israeli attorney and a former Mossad agent working for a fictional government office.

His assignment is to track down $90 million thought to have been stolen by one Raymond DeLouise. Gordon soon discovers that DeLouise, who is found dead at the beginning of the book, has two other names — Dov Peled and Bruno Popescu — and two other citizenships.

The questions surrounding DeLouise’s “triple identity” set the stage for this high-stakes thriller, which unfolds in four countries.

Though Gordon and Carmon seem similar, the author is adamant that they’re not the same person.

“I am not Dan Gordon; Dan Gordon is a fictional character. All these cases were inspired, but it doesn’t mean that they happened. Some of it did, some of it didn’t,” he says.

However, Carmon won’t reveal what in the book is fact and what’s fiction.

Intelligence gathering has been only one part of Carmon’s career. Between 1981 and 1984, Carmon says he was closely associated with the Israeli politician Shimon Peres, acting as Peres’ counsel.

“I actively participated in secret negotiations” that Peres “held after the 1984 elections,” he says. The balloting was so close that the two major Israeli political parties opted to share power on a rotating schedule in a unity government.

Both Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud politician with whom Peres embarked on the prime ministerial rotation arrangement, trusted him, Carmon says.

“I was able to forge secret meetings that were held in my home,” he says. “The end result was the formation of the unity government.”

Carmon, who grew up in Tel Aviv, served three years in the Israeli air force. In 1964, he enrolled at Tel Aviv University and studied political science and developing countries. After graduation in 1969, he attended the university’s law school.

Carmon entered public life when he was elected vice president of the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce, where he helped forge and promote the economic relationship between Israel and the United States.

He still serves as legal counsel to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

In 1985, Carmon and his wife, Rakeffet, enrolled in St. John’s University in New York City, and earned degrees in government and politics and certificates in international law and diplomacy.

Carmon travels to Israel one week of each month and maintains households and law practices in both New York and Israel.

He says he has emphasized Jewish values in the education of his five children, ages 11 to 36. His eldest son is an attorney in Carmon’s Israeli practice.

Carmon says that there’s even a Jewish core to “Triple Identity.”

“The entire book is filled with Jewish values, what is right and wrong,” he says. “I built the character of Benny Friedman, the head of the international division of the Mossad, as an Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher, who keeps the rituals, who does not work on Shabbat and still was able to become one of the top executives of the Mossad,” he says. “So it shows you can do it even in an organization that works 24/7, 365.”

In addition to the work he has done for the U.S. Department of Justice, Carmon has started an international network of law firms, Globalaw, which provides legal services to American companies and individuals in various countries.

He has also been retained by several U.S. government agencies — including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Postal Inspection Service — to serve as their legal counsel.

Carmon’s work is dangerous, but he pooh-poohs that.

The United Nations estimates that more than $1 trillion is laundered each year. Money laundering is becoming an even more dangerous practice, according to Carmon, because of cooperation between common criminals and terrorists.

The link between money laundering and terrorism forms the basis of Carmon’s two latest novels, “The Red Syndrome” and “Chameleon.” Steerforth Press, the publisher of “Triple Identity,” will publish those books, Carmon says, and it has optioned a fourth book, which he currently is writing.

Despite the political focus of his books, Carmon’s reasons for writing “Triple Identity” are more personal.

“I’m not carrying a social message. I’m writing the book because of an inner need to tell people things that they didn’t realize governments do” in their protection, he says. “It’s great fun to write.”

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