PM's Presser: Fraud + Israeli Spies = Media Frenzy
PM's Presser: 'Fraud?' + 'Israeli Spies?' = Media Frenzy
By Kevin List
The whiff of John Le Carre pervaded most of the Prime Minister’s Press Conference with allegations of spies, the potential that the New Zealand passport may have been violated by agents of Mossad, and the potential fallout from this alleged violation. In the interest of simplicity the ‘best’ potential diplomatic stoush since New Zealand said ‘No nukes thanks Ronald’ and collared some French ‘tourists’ is covered in this report. For coverage of the rest of the Press Conference see… PM's Presser: Beyer, Greg, Iraq, Israel & The Treaty
‘ALLEGED’ FRAUD + ‘ALLEGED’ ISRAELI SPIES + POSSIBLE DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT = MEDIA FRENZY
Following two Israeli gentlemen appearing in Court on Friday charged with attempting to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport, there has been a veritable media ruckus regarding potential Mossad links and ‘spies’.
Among other factors fuelling this media speculation are various statements made by a number of senior government figures. Specifically, before either potential passport purloiner/Mossad agent/innocent travel broker has been either found guilty or not guilty, the Prime Minister has already promised a strong statement at the end of the trial.
Further racheting up the media attention are statements from acting Foreign Affairs Minister, Jim Sutton to the New Zealand Herald published Monday.
- ‘Two people had been arrested with New Zealand passports. It appeared they were representatives of the Israeli Government’.
- Mr Sutton was further reported to have said that the Israeli ambassador was called in to have the ‘riot act’ read.
An attempt by supposed foreign agents to obtain a New Zealand passport has occurred before. In 1991 a Soviet citizen, Anvar Kadyrov was deported after being charged with an offence under the passport act. According to the then Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, Kadyrov had attempted to obtain a New Zealand passport using a copy of a birth entry of a deceased New Zealand child. Following suspicion he was a member of a Soviet intelligence service, Kadyrov was deported.
More recently a Finnish national was convicted of trying to obtain a New Zealand passport through using the names of Christchurch residents who happened to be mentally retarded. In relation to the recent case involving a Finnish national the Prime Minister was unable to recall if the Finnish ambassador had been ‘called in.’
Three main issues were hammered by the Prime Minister during the conference:
1. The need to maintain the integrity of the NZ passport
‘Effective border control and effective systems are part of counter terrorism efforts and certainly exposing a fraud like this I think is a reminder to the region of the need to run good systems. Saying that, the New Zealand passport obviously carries a far greater cachet than those of a number of different countries, which makes us more likely to be a target. We intend to make ourselves a very hard target
‘As the Director of Security said in another context the NZ passport is very well regarded, which may make it a target for those who may want to misuse it. What comforts me is that an internal affairs officer and his colleagues were alert to the possibility of this being a fraudulent application’
With regard to any potential reviews that may spring from this alleged attempt to fraudulently obtain a passport:
‘It’s a question of what level of checking and certification is appropriate. People are much more aware these days of the uses to which a fraudulently obtained passport can be put. Whatever is necessary to safeguard the importance of the NZ passport system we will do.’
2. Innocent until proven guilty
The Prime Minister went to some length to point out the need for the Government to maintain some distance from the legal processes.
‘I see already that lawyers for the accused are using the excuse that the news media in NZ is doing its job and claim that these two people will not get a fair trial – I absolutely reject that. They will get a fair trial and justice will run its course.’
This may explain why the New Zealand government is being so ‘careful’:
‘The fact that the Government is being careful with what it says shouldn’t add to speculation. The reality is that two men have appeared in court in Auckland, they have been charged with committing various offences. It is not our practice to comment on matters that are before the court.’
But this didn’t seem to explain why Sutton or the Prime Minister had made their recently reported comments.
3. Diplomatic relations with Israel
Why the Prime Minister intended to make a formal and strong statement at the end of the trial remained something of a mystery. When questioned what sort of statement the Prime Minister would be making should the defendants be found not guilty the Prime Minister replied:
‘I have been very clear that we are not intervening in court proceedings. We cannot say anything that would jeopardise court proceedings. When the police prosecute they would like to have a successful outcome. And they are not going to have the Government saying anything that would prejudice that.’
This didn’t fully explain why the Prime Minister considered ‘we’ could learn from this attempted fraud. Surely the various agencies concerned with passport fraud are able to learn from the various offenders actually caught and convicted?
‘This was an attempted fraud which was detected. What we now can learn from that is a little about the modus operandi of those that seek to defraud the passport system. So we need to think; are there things we can do in the normal certification? And we could well examine whether other countries have tightened up recently and what we might learn from them.’
Regarding the ‘calling in’ of the Israeli ambassador the Prime Minister sought to downplay the significance of this:
‘It’s not unusual for ambassadors to be called in, and of course there are many ambassadors and high commissions that are not resident here. So perhaps someone being called across from Canberra may add a little to the drama.’
But whilst the calling in of ambassadors may not in itself be significant, surely the comments made by the stand-in Minister of Foreign affairs were what was ‘unusual’ and what added to the ‘drama.’
The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on what exactly the nature of this exchange was. Fortunately, for the media headlines though, this was hardly necessary considering Sutton had managed to provide an excellent version of his exchange with the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand’s largest paper.
It also emerged that conversations behind closed doors with foreign ambassadors need not necessarily remain there:
‘I don’t think intrinsically that diplomatic comments will always remain out of the public eye’.
The court case involving the two Israeli gentlemen may bring forth revelations of links to the Mossad/Spectre/CIA. It may find they are petty criminals or innocent tourists prone to biff their cellphones in bushes when startled. However, given recent comments by their lawyer, should the two gents of foreign origin end up being found not guilty, they may have the Prime Minister and Jim Sutton’s comments to thank for their freedom.