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NZ Receives Formal Apology From Israel

NZ Receives Formal Apology From Israel

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today that Israel has formally apologised to New Zealand for the actions of two of its citizens who attempted to obtain a New Zealand passport by fraudulent means.

Helen Clark said she was pleased that New Zealand and Israel would now be able to resume friendly diplomatic relations.

“The New Zealand Government has strong grounds for believing that the two men convicted were working on behalf of an Israeli intelligence agency,” Helen Clark said.

“The Israeli letter of apology, signed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, states that Israel apologises for the involvement of its two citizens in the activities which led to their arrest and convictions in New Zealand.

“It further states that Israel regrets these activities and commits itself to taking steps to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents in future.

“The letter of apology, and New Zealand’s response, are the outcome of consultations between the two governments carried out through diplomatic channels over recent months,” said Helen Clark.

“Restrictions on official contact with Israel are being lifted today. The new Israeli ambassador can now be accredited, and visits and other diplomatic activities can be restored.

“The apology follows the arrest, in March 2004, of two Israelis, Eli Cara and Uri Kelman, on charges of attempting to obtain a New Zealand passport by fraud.

“They were convicted in July 2004 and were released and deported in September 2004 after serving prison terms and making substantial charitable contributions.

“The New Zealand Government sought an apology and an assurance that such activities would not be repeated. It also imposed diplomatic sanctions in July 2004, limiting official contacts with Israel.”

Helen Clark said that official inquiries had revealed that a very small number of New Zealand passports had been obtained by those working on behalf of Israeli intelligence. She said that those passports have been cancelled and that it would be futile for attempts to be made to use them.

“For some time now, the government has been strengthening the processes used to issue passports.

“New passports containing biometric data are being introduced, and machine readable Emergency Travel Documents for issue to New Zealanders overseas in emergency are replacing manual passports. Passport applications are being systematically checked against records and data available to the government. Stricter criteria now apply to the grant of citizenship, which is necessary to obtain New Zealand passports, and the residency requirement for citizenship has been extended from three to five years. Passports now expire after five years rather than ten.

“Israel’s formal apology and undertaking to prevent the recurrence of the activities that resulted in the arrest and criminal convictions of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand is welcome.

“The conclusion of this exchange of letters today means that the matter at issue is now behind us and that we can move forward to resume friendly diplomatic relations with Israel,” Helen Clark said.

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