Two Israelis suspected by New Zealand authorities of
being Mossad agents have pleaded guilty to unlawfully attempting to obtain
a New Zealand passport.
Uri Kelman, 30, and Elisha Cara, 50, pleaded guilty in Auckland's High
Court last week. They will remain in custody until a July 15 sentencing
hearing. The crime carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
The men had been on bail since their first court appearance in April. Two
other charges against the men of conspiracy for being part of an organized
crime syndicate have been dropped.
The New Zealand Herald said the guilty plea was to prevent the prosecution
bringing "diplomatically embarrassing" evidence that the men indeed were
Mossad agents involved in criminal activity in New Zealand.
But a major New Zealand television station, TVN, sent a camera crew to
Israel to investigate the alleged Mossad connections, but they found
There have been rising tensions recently between New Zealand and Israel.
Last month, the New Zealand Government openly criticized Israel's policy of
bulldozing Palestinian homes and donated $534,000 to aid homeless
In May, two officials from the Jewish Agency for Israel were detained at
Auckland Airport on suspicion that the two were Mossad agents, drug-runners
or illegally transporting food across borders. One of them reported that he
had been told by a customs agent, "We are treating all you Israelis the
same - you are nothing but drug dealers and spies."
In the passport case, Kelman and Cara applied for a New Zealand passport
using the birth certificate of a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim.
Two other men were suspected of being involved in the crime. Zev William
Barkan, a neighbor of the cerebral palsy patient, has fled the country. A
fourth man remains unidentified.
After an earlier hearing, Cara denied that he had any connections to
Mossad. But New Zealand's acting foreign minister, Jim Sutton, said at the
time that the men were "representatives of the Israeli government."
The arrests spawned a diplomatic brouhaha between New Zealand and the
Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia, which is responsible for New
New Zealand media reported that the acting ambassador, Orna Sagiv, had been
summoned to New Zealand where she was "read the riot act." The embassy did
not respond to requests for interviews about the story.
Cara had been to New Zealand many times. He lived in Sydney, Australia,
where he allegedly ran a travel agency. His wife and children have since
returned to Israel.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has refused to comment until after
sentencing, but observers said her government likely would re-evaluate the
policy of granting visas to visiting Israelis following the hearing. At
present, Israelis do not need a visa to visit the country.
Sagiv also refused to comment on the case until after the sentencing. Geoff
Levy, co-president of the Auckland Jewish Council and a lawyer on the team
defending Cara, told JTA, "Jews in Auckland are not happy with the
attention the media has whipped up with regard to this case.