New Zealand Cuts Israeli Links in Spy Row

Article excerpt

NEW ZEALAND suspended high-level diplomatic relations with Israel yesterday after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for passport fraud.

Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara were sentenced at Auckland High Court for trying to obtain a passport in the name of a wheelchair- bound man with cerebral palsy. Minutes later, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, launched a blistering attack on Israel, saying its actions had "seriously strained" relations between the two countries.

A furious Ms Clark said her government regarded "the act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international law".

The affair is being cited as the biggest diplomatic row to hit New Zealand since the Rainbow Warrior debacle of 1985, when the country severed relations with France after French secret agents sunk the Greenpeace flagship in Auckland Harbour.

Kelman, 30, and Cara, 50, were arrested in March after a passport officer became suspicious of a telephone call. He noted that the caller had an American or Canadian accent and called the disabled man's father. The pair had obtained the man's birth certificate and were using it in their attempt to secure a passport. One claimed to be a travel agent from Sydney, although there was no evidence that he operated a business in Australia.

The men's motives were not clear, but a New Zealand passport is regarded as anodyne and guarantees visa-free access to many countries.

Two other Israelis believed to be involved in the attempted fraud left the country before it was uncovered, police said. One was named as Zev William Barkan, 36; the identity of the other man was not known. The four had travelled in and out of New Zealand on numerous occasions in the past four years. …