By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
Two Israeli men suspected of being involved in an Israeli intelligence passport acquiring scam have been sentenced to six months imprisonment respectively in the Auckland High Court this afternoon.
Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to illegally gain a New Zealand passport.
Justice Judith Potter said: "It's difficult to see why anyone would want a false New Zealand passport unless it was intended to be used in a way ancillary to some other offending." She said: "That offending is likely to be serious or perhaps very serious."
Cara and Kelman, have been ordered to pay a combined NZ $100,000 to a cerebral palsy charity.
The two men were suspected of being aligned to a Mossad ring seeking to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport for a third man, know as Zev Barkan. Barkan had fled the country prior to a police sting in March that ended in the arrest of Kelman and Cara as they tried to collect a passport in the name of a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said tonight that there were very strong reasons to believe that the two Israelis convicted on charges relating to a fraudulent attempt to obtain a New Zealand passport were acting on behalf of Israel’s intelligence services.
"Israel is a country with which New Zealand has long had friendly relations. The New Zealand government views 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 Israeli agents attempted to demean the integrity of the New Zealand passport system and could have created considerable difficulties for New Zealanders presenting their passports overseas in future," Helen Clark said.
She added: "New Zealand condemns without reservation these actions by agencies of the Israel government. The Israel government was asked for an explanation and an apology three months ago. Neither has been received.
"As a result, the following measures have been implemented:
• New Zealand is suspending high-level visits from and to Israel;
• Any approach by Israel for its head of state, President Katsov, to visit New Zealand in August, in association with a proposed visit to Australia, will be declined;
• Israelis visiting New Zealand in any official government capacity will be required to apply for visas; • Foreign Ministry consultations with Israel, due later this year, will be suspended;
• Approval for appointment of the new Israeli ambassador will be delayed and accreditation visits to Israel suspended meantime;
• Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, and Ministers, will observe strict constraints on contact with Israel's honorary consuls.
"As will be apparent from these steps, the breach of New Zealand laws and sovereignty by agents of the Israeli government has seriously strained our relationship with Israel,” Helen Clark said.
Police found that Kelman, Cara and another two individuals had been operating in Auckland since November 2003. Cara had traveled in and out of New Zealand 24 times since October 2000.
After the arrests in March, scenarios abounded as to what the ring was really up to. Was Mossad behind the scam? If so why?
Zev William Barkan (37), possibly a false name, also answers to the name Jay, was staying at a flat in Sandringham, Auckland City. New Zealand authorities believe he has left New Zealand. Zev Barkan remains wanted by New Zealand Police for allegedly attempting to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport. Barkan is a short, solid built, Caucasian male, has thick black hair, an American accent, said he was from Washington DC, worked for a windows and doors company, and was in New Zealand to do a sailing course. Barkan was last known to be in New Zealand March 3 to 20.
Police allege that on March 12, Barkan approached Travcour (Auckland company which specialises in obtaining visas and travel documents) to arrange a passport in the name of a New Zealand cerebral palsy sufferer. Police say Barkan opened a mailing address in the quadriplegic New Zealander’s name, a phone answering service was set up, also in the New Zealander’s name (name suppressed by Auckland District Court). Barkan allegedly visited a Lynfield General Practitioner, Howard Way, with a “minor ailment” –the doctor was asked to witness a passport application, also in the name of the New Zealand quadriplegic’s name – the doctor signed as a witness to the document.
At an official level, a blanket of secrecy was cast over the case.
New Zealand Passports A Prized Black Market Item
In many Asian Capitals, New Zealand passports are keenly sought – the price for an entry-level forgery going for $500 USD.
A series of high-powered New Zealand Government crisis meetings were held in the last week of March after the Prime Minister was informed that two suspected Mossad connectives had been arrested in Auckland. The crisis meetings examined information received from the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS), New Zealand Police and its counter-terrorism unit, and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s sub-group External Assessments Bureau (EAB) – and mapped a blueprint of how New Zealand should handle the alleged spy threat.
An information security blanket was applied, keeping the lid on the operation while diplomatic manoeuvrings took place between the New Zealand Government, Israeli diplomats, and intelligence bodies in a number of countries within the western alliance.
Meanwhile, Israel continued its attempt to have New Zealand remove the passport case of the two alleged Mossad connectives from the courts. The New Zealand Government refused to do so.
It appears a low level ministerial approach was utilysed to initially complain to the Israel Government. Consequently acting Foreign Affairs Minister Jim Sutton hauled an Israeli diplomat to the Beehive for a dressing down. This tactic kept Prime Ministerial heat off the Israeli’s while the judicial process took its course.
Once news broke, the Prime Minister said: “The people involved in this case are Israeli citizens and the matter has been raised directly with the Israeli government, but I am not able to make further comment. There will be a strong and public response to this matter once the court action has concluded, “Helen Clark said.
A New Zealand Herald team, led by senior reporter Eugene Bingham, broke the story on Saturday (April 17). See…. Foreign spy charges whip up top-level security storm
Detailed information surfaced after the arrested pair appeared for a second time on Friday April 16 at the Auckland District Court.
There, Police revealed how the sting, codenamed Operation Cloak resulted in two arrests on March 23:
Before District Court Judge Chris Field, Urie Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara initially denied three joint charges including attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport and participating in an organised crime group to obtain a false passport. Police were represented by Auckland-based prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch - Solicitor General Office (Wellington) has also taken an interest – represented by Terence Arnold QC. Lawyers for the accused are: Grant Illingworth, QC representing Eli Cara - and Nigel Faigan representing Uriel Zoshe Kelman.
Subsequent Scoop investigations found in many Asian Capitals, New Zealand passports are keenly sought – the price for an entry-level forgery going for $500 USD.
A Scoop Asia-based contact suggested the lowest level market price for a New Zealand passport is $500 USD. This buys the clandestine traveler a “basic job” that entails changing the photograph from the original owner to the buyer’s image, a change of name, date of birth. Alternatively, the original passport owner’s name would remain with a simple photo-swap satisfying assured travel through Asia, Middle East and Pacific Islands.
The next level, would buy a very skilled forgery, using a stolen new generation NZ passport. This would cost the buyer around $1500 USD. While this level of passport would likely provide security for the dodgy traveler throughout many European countries, it would not be sophisticated enough to ensure travel in and out of New Zealand or Australia, or indeed the United States.
Another contact suggested, if a buyer, crook, or sub-government operative wants assurance that a passport would pass checks within the NZ system, he or she would need the real McCoy. Obtaining this level of passport attracts significant risks.
In days past, covert operatives, both criminal and sub-government, have used the old ruse: obtain a birth certificate of a deceased person, build a documented identity, driver’s license, passport, bank accounts, if required a tax record.
Today, internal affairs departments worldwide are wise to this method. To establish a sound legend in this information-age requires a higher degree of research. But this, and again, attracts increased risk.
To obtain a new identity that’s hard for authorities to crack requires documents built around a living person – preferably one who cannot or could not travel abroad. A perfect living example would be an intellectually disabled person or quadriplegic.
One Scoop source said this aspect of Operation Cloak suggests an air of sophistication. Why would a group go to such lengths to obtain a New Zealand passport? One scenario, another source says, would suggest an operation specific to the Australasian region: “That's very interesting, the person using it needing to be able to get in and out of NZ through the front door.”
Mossad insiders, now on the outside, say the Mossad has just 30 to 37 case officers called katsas operating at any one time. The Mossad is able to function on a low number of core katsas due to a loyal Jewish community outside Israel. The loyalists are networked via a system of sayanim, or volunteer Jewish helpers.
Sayanim loyalists are usually Jewish, live outside of Israel, and are often recruited via Israeli relatives.
There are reportedly thousands of sayanim around the world. Their role will be specific to their professions: A loyalist in the travel industry could help Mossad obtain documents.
Sayanim offer practical support, are never put at risk, and are certainly not privy to classified information. A sayan in the tenancy business would find accommodation, financiers, doctors, civil servants, care-givers employed caring for the severely disabled… all have a part to play without knowing the complete or bigger picture, and will remain silent due to loyalty to the cause.
Katsas in charge of active sayanim will visit once every three months involving both face-to-face meetings and numerous telephone conversations.
“The system allows the Mossad to work with a skeleton staff. That's why, for example, a KGB station would employ about 100 people, while a comparable Mossad station would need only six or seven.”
Many covert activities - mainly in New York and Washington belong to a special division of the Mossad called simply Al, Hebrew for "above" or "on top."
More Questions Than Answers
At the time of the arrests, Scoop considered: Were the men arrested in Auckland Sayanim? Was Mossad hovering in a centralised position, keeping itself at arm’s length, operating like a cell to procure the passport? If Cara and Kelman were Sayanim, would they know what the whole picture was? Has a Mossad katsas co-ordinated a semi-underworld group to acquire a clean passport for an operative whose current identities have been ‘dirtied’? This is all supposition. If considered, would it explain the 'cannot be Mossad because of the pick-up bungle' argument?
Examining the alleged operation, it appears the sophisticated part, and arguably most significant, is that the group allegedly researched and targeted a quadriplegic to steal his true identity to provide a secure ‘legend’ for Zev William Barkan. The New Zealander, who almost had his identity stolen from him, is a severely disabled man who would have little chance of ever travelling abroad. Considering the alleged operation, the choice of true identity, as opposed to the picking a dead birth-certificate, would suggest significantly more research, and attract significant risk. Why was this so necessary, so important? Sources suggest this aspect of Operation Cloak is the most disturbing.
Was Barkan the important figure that a legend was being developed for? If so, why was assured travel throughout Australasia essential to the operation? Sources suggest too, a motivation would be more to ensure assured travel into New Zealand as opposed to other nations.
Was the fourth person (believed to still be in New Zealand) a worker in a residential care home, a civil servant, or do they have some other way of obtaining information about people who are severely disabled and likely never to travel overseas?
Here’s a scenario – again it is mere supposition: Were Cara and Kelman simply document procurers whose job was to source and find identities? This considered, they work in with an informant (the fourth person). Then when someone needs a new identity for a mission (for example Barkan) Cara and Kelman set it up so the operative can fly into the country, lodge the application and leave the country soon afterward. Once the passport is issued, Cara and Kelman pick up the passport for the operative and forward it on.
Barkan, or the operative who needs the new identity, has it in his/her hot hands without being exposed too much. If things go wrong, they are nowhere to be found.
At this stage in the investigations weird things began to occur – not the least being media involved in deciphering the network becoming most suspicious of strange sounds squeaking on telephone lines! Talk of Mossad makes an ear acute!
But more concerning, Scoop contacts overseas became alarmed at actions threatening to supposedly expose some New Zealand aligned NGOs for being false-shops or fronts for more covert activities. Those especially targeted being NGOs with management who had close links to members of the New Zealand Cabinet. It appeared clear when following the lines of investigation, a conduit was discovered that went back to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club – a hub of intelligence connectives that feed foreign journalists with an array of intel-scoops. Again it appeared the NGO-Front-Shops allegations were originating from those close to Israeli intelligence networks.
Scoop decided to publish (and has subsequently been unchallenged except for an objecting former New Zealand journalist currently a hack at the Phnom Penn Post) what it found, and wrote on May 13: Non-Government-Organisations with New Zealand connections are being sent a stern message from the Israeli intelligence community apparently in retaliation for New Zealand openly trying two suspected Israel intelligence connectives on passport charges.
South East Asian based non-government organisations are specifically being targeted.
In April, in a sting titled Operation Cloak, New Zealand Police arrested two suspected Israeli agents on illegal passport charges. Israel asked the New Zealand Government to keep details of the arrest secret and for the matter to be handled diplomatically. New Zealand refused the request.
Scoop understood Israel was applying pressure against NGOs based overseas operated by New Zealanders with strong connections to the current New Zealand Cabinet.
Most recent was the Cambodian-based NGO called Global PAC (Global Protect All Children, see global-pac.org), set up to overtly expose human trafficking and child prostitution in the Indo-Chinese region.
Global Pac says it is committed to child protection “through a two pronged approach, one which emphasises surveillance and reporting of suspected offenders and the other of which emphasises the development of vocational skills programmes for those who are victims of sexual abuse or at risk of abuse in the Third World eg ‘street children’.”
Global PAC was one NGO being investigated for covert activities. It was interesting however, the investigation was a media-manipulated push originating from the sidelines of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondent Club (HKCC).
The HKFCC has long been a hub used by governments determined to plant covert intelligence into the media. It is also an intelligence conduit for respected media outlets such the United Kingdom’s Janes. Janes on-sells intelligence to subscribers, businesses and government clients.
Global PAC’s front-end is run by New Zealanders and Canadians. One of the ex-pat New Zealanders has strong connections to the New Zealand Government. It was therefore, arguably, a ripe target for aggrieved Mossad-connected individuals to parade their message.
Phnom Penn Post journalist Richard Woodd, formerly the editor of Kapiti’s local newspaper, began asking questions, apparently suggesting that Global PAC was a shady charity group and probable front for more covert intelligence activity. According to one Scoop contact, Woodd suggested that Global PAC was specifically a front for raising funds in Cambodia for covert activity.
It is believed Woodd was ‘primed’ by information originating Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondent Club.
Woodd had agreed to meet with Global PAC’s representatives, prior to publishing his ‘expose’. Also attending that meeting however, to Woodd’s surprise, was Phnom Penn’s Brigadier General Thong Lim, who holds office with the NGO. Woodd was assured the claims he was told were false.
Meanwhile, information originating from Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondent Club suggested that the outer layers of Global PAC’s humanitarian work masked the heart of a covert intelligence group.
Scoop understood that Australian-born Martin Merz, a successful businessman who exports shoes from China to New York, and who consequently is deeply rooted within the Foreign Correspondent’s Club’s networks, held the keys to where the claims originated. Merz also was formerly employed by Taiwanese vice-presidential candidate, James Soong.
The New Zealand intelligence community, based in Asia, believed with certainty that NGOs operated by Kiwis were coming under Israeli intelligence pressure.
One well positioned Scoop contact said: “This is a matter of record as well as personal experience and the experience of those close to me.” This contact said this pressure is linked directly to Israel being angered that the New Zealand Government insisted the illegal passport case against two Israelis in Auckland be aired publicly.
Another Asia-based Scoop contact with both government and non-government-organisation ties said: “I have noticed a trend. New Zealand busts (an alleged Mossad operation) and IMMEDIATELY they (Mossad) begin a multi-pronged harassment campaign on anything related to kiwis, whether that be New Zealand customs agents or New Zealand NGO workers in the Asia pacific region.
“According to our information – the HKFCC (Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club link) was a set up. ‘M’ (Editor’s note: name withheld) has been communicating with (Israeli agent) based in Guangzhou China.”
Has the HKFCC been dabbling in the world of spooks and shady sub-government organizations? Scoop investigations confirmed an Israeli passport ring indeed operates in Asia, acquiring illegal passports for operatives, allegedly like Zev Barkan, the man wanted by New Zealand Police for skipping New Zealand once Operation Cloak was sprung.
Scoop understands Barkan is being investigated by Macau and Chinese Immigration for his movements in April/May. The investigation includes his alleged use of the US passport in the name of Zev Barkan and a second Canadian passport in the name of Kevin Hunter - which was stolen in Guangzhou China on April 11th. Contacts suggest too that relative information has passed through the HKFCC.
Investigations show one thing certain: that the lines between Asian-based western media and the western alliance intelligence community are blurred - and that increasingly, New Zealand’s independence from the smoke and mirrors game played out by the world’s powers is being corrupted.
Will we ever know the full account of what was behind Cara and Kelman’s criminal ring? Probably not.
At the Auckland High Court Justice Potter today took into account the gravity of offending and the subsequent undermining of the New Zealand passport system.
The two men will be ordered to leave New Zealand once their six month sentence has concluded.
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