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Israeli 'spies' drop passport fraud appeals
By KEVIN TAYLOR
Two suspected Israeli spies found guilty of passport fraud in New Zealand are dropping their appeal against the convictions, raising Government hopes it may yet receive the apology it has sought from Israel.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday that Israel had maintained it would not be addressing the matter until the court process was complete.
The dropping of the appeal has raised the question of whether an apology is looming for what Helen Clark has called an "utterly unacceptable breach" of international law and New Zealand sovereignty.
The case took a new turn at the weekend when it was revealed Australia has quietly expelled an Israeli diplomat who visited the suspected agents in Mt Eden Prison last year.
The deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Orna Sagiv, declined yesterday to comment on the expulsion or the dropping of the court appeal.
New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel when Eli Cara and Uriel Zoshe Kelman were jailed for six months for stealing the identity of a tetraplegic man to obtain a false New Zealand passport.
Kelman's lawyer, Grant Illingworth, QC, said yesterday that he was filing a notice in the Court of Appeal dropping the challenge to the convictions, but refused to say why.
A spokesman for Helen Clark said the notice had not yet been filed so she had no comment.
She was reluctant to be drawn into the latest development - the news that Australia had ordered out Canberra-based Israeli diplomat Amir Lati, who visited Cara and Kelman in Mt Eden.
Israeli paper Ma'ariv reported at the weekend that Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade summoned a senior embassy official - named by an Australian newspaper as Mr Lati - and requested his immediate recall or steps would be taken to deport him.
Israel instructed Mr Lati to return home immediately.
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Phil Goff said he was unaware of any contact between New Zealand and Australia over the issue.
Helen Clark said the issues around the diplomat were something for the Australians to deal with, adding it was normal practice for diplomats to visit prisoners overseas.
"Our diplomats regularly do visit New Zealanders who are in trouble and end up in another country's prison, so I wouldn't have seen anything extraordinary about an Israeli official coming from Canberra."
In response to the passport incident, New Zealand delayed approval for the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador and required all Israelis coming to New Zealand on Government business to get visas.
The Government has also said it would decline any approach by Israeli President Mosche Katsav to visit New Zealand in association with a proposed trip to Australia, which is due next month.
Helen Clark yesterday reaffirmed he would not get an invitation.
"We never expected this sort of action from a Government with which we had friendly relations."
Green MP Keith Locke said the Government should investigate whether the Israeli attempt to obtain a passport was run out of the Canberra embassy.
He said dropping the appeal indicated the Israelis did not want the spotlight turned on the affair again.
Eli Cara and Uriel Zoshe Kelman were jailed for six months last July for stealing the identity of a tetraplegic man to obtain a false New Zealand passport.
The NZ Govt believes the men were Israeli intelligence operatives and imposed diplomatic sanctions until the Israeli Government apologises.
The pair left NZ in September after serving half their sentences. Appeals against the convictions are now being withdrawn but Israel's embassy in Canberra refuses to comment.
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