New Zealand to Demand Apology in Passport Affair

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is to demand an apology from the Israeli government and a pledge that Mossad operatives will not try to steal or forge New Zealand passports or use them for their activities, sources told the New Zealand media on Saturday.

The demand follows the arrest in New Zealand in March of two Israelis, who are charged with fraudulently attempting to obtain New Zealand passports.

Intelligence specialists in New Zealand, including one individual who said he had once worked for the Mossad, said in interviews that the members of a group associated with the case had been working systematically for years to obtain New Zealand passports, which are considered "door-openers" and do not arouse suspicion in the Arab world.

Clark's spokesman said he would not comment until the court case ends on July 15. At that time, the court will sentence Elisha Ben Kara, 50, and Uriel Zoshe Kelman, 31, to a maximum of five years in prison.

On Friday, the pair pleaded guilty to membership in a crime ring attempting to attain a New Zealand passport illegally and fraudulently. Their admission is part of a deal with the prosecution, in return for the indictment being reduced from three charges to one. The two have been detained since their arrest on March 23 in separate Auckland hotels, and are required to report to the police once a day.

Two other Israelis have been accused in the same case: Zeev William Barkan, 37, who fled New Zealand before he could be arrested, and a man whose name has not been released. Although the prosecution has not charged them with espionage, the media in New Zealand have pegged them as Mossad agents, based on police and other local sources.

The New Zealand Herald interviewed the father of a man whose name the Mossad allegedly made use of to fraudulently obtain a passport. The father said his son, 30, has cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair and cannot speak.

According to the father, Barkan lived near his son. Kara, whose picture has appeared in media outlets, did not try to hide his face during his recent court appearance. However Kelman wore a ski mask. The two shook hands with an unidentified Israeli.

Israel has so far refused to comment, neither confirming nor denying that the men are Mossad operatives.

According to the media in Australia and New Zealand, who say the information comes from official sources, the security services in the two countries had the men under surveillance during March, after the man later identified as Barkan requested a passport using the birth certificate of the 30-year-old with cerebral palsy.

Barkan later requested the passport be expedited, as he wanted to leave for Australia shortly to get married. An Interior Ministry clerk noticed that Barkan had a foreign accent and became suspicious as to how a young man who had never left the country could have an accent.

The clerk called the home of the young man whose name Barkan was using and discovered that he was in a wheelchair. The police eventually arrested Kara and Kelman as they were about to take delivery of the passport.

Kelman attempted to throw his cellular phone in the bushes, but the police located it. Although they denied knowing each other, Kelman's cellular phone had a record of calls to each other.

Kara, who claims he is an Australian travel agent, although his company name does not appear in any registries, has entered and left New Zealand 24 times in the past four years. Kara and his family are residents of Kokhav Yair; Barkan is from Shoham; and Kelman is from Jerusalem.