Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dubai murder-accused had Kiwi link |

Former Israeli diplomat to New Zealand Zev William Barkan leads a life akin to that of novelist Frederick Forsyth's Jackal – emerging from the shadows only to be named by authorities in connection with various crimes before again disappearing.

Barkan is still wanted in New Zealand as the alleged ringleader of an illegal passport scam in 2004; last year he was named as a suspect in the slaying of a Hamas operative in Dubai.

Barkan is one of 32 people Dubai police suspect as having a role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel room in the emirate in January 2010.

Four fake Australian passports were used by the team responsible for the killing.

That development came six years after Barkan fled New Zealand for Israel in the wake of a passport scam that caused a rift in New Zealand relations with the Jewish State. Two of his countrymen were arrested for stealing the identity of an Aucklander with cerebral palsy to fraudulently obtain a passport.

New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions against Israel and suspended high-level contacts between the two countries following the July 2004 passport fraud convictions of Israelis Uriel Zosha Kelman and Eli Cara. Speculation was that the men were Mossad agents.

New Zealand police allege Barkan was the one who actually tried to get the passport.

Tony Resnick, a former paramedic with St John Ambulance, was also believed to have been involved. He spent some time working in Israel and was a "person of interest" to police. He resigned from his job and left the country without warning in March 2004.

Barkan is also believed to have left New Zealand before Kelman and Cara were caught.

In reaction, then prime minister Helen Clark cancelled a planned visit to New Zealand in August by then Israeli president Moshe Katzav, delayed approval for a new Israeli ambassador to New Zealand, and said the case had "seriously strained our relationship".

A year later, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom expressed sorrow, and said Israel would work to repair it. Dr Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel had to protest the sanctions, "for if not, it's a silent admission that the two men worked for the Mossad".

Meanwhile, Kelman and Cara, who denied membership of Mossad but pleaded guilty to trying to enter the country illegally and working with organised criminal gangs, were sentenced to six months' jail.

Cara, who visited New Zealand 24 times between October 2000 and March 2004, claims he was working as a travel agent.

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They were also ordered to pay reparation to a cerebral palsy charity because they tried to collect a passport in the name of a man with the condition. After serving three months they were deported.

Soon after the scandal broke in New Zealand, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Barkan, allegedly using a fraudulent Canadian passport, was possibly in North Korea.

The newspaper's source was quoted as a "New Zealand aid worker with intelligence connections in Asia".

The political strife and speculation deepened in early 2005 when it emerged Australia had secretly expelled a Canberra-based diplomat – described as a "consul" in Israel.

Several weeks later, in February, the expulsion was revealed in an Israeli newspaper, Ma'ariv.

The newspaper speculated there might have been some connection with the New Zealand passport case.

One of the official duties of the Canberra diplomat was to visit the two Israelis in prison in New Zealand, to provide them with diplomatic services, the paper said. The pair had also spent considerable time in Australia, where there was speculation that they might have been on a similar mission.

In between times, Barkan did not go to ground. He was named by Cambodian media a year after disappearing from New Zealand as, along with accomplices, running a studio making snuff and porn movies in the Mekong River town of Pen Yauin in Cambodia.

In a professional studio, girls from New Zealand and Australia – students and tourists – were lured into thinking they were to become movie stars.

At first they made porn films in studios in Phnom Phen behind a local bar before branching out into films of hangings and executions of city vagrants, followed by suicide films.

Almost six years later, the scandal would rear its head again when in December cables released by WikiLeaks said United States diplomats disparaged New Zealand's reaction to the suspected spy ring as a "flap" and accused New Zealand's government of grandstanding in order to sell more lamb to Arab countries.

US officials in Wellington told their colleagues in Washington that New Zealand had "little to lose" from the breakdown in diplomatic relations with Israel and was instead merely trying to bolster its exports to Arab states.

Claims the men were Mossad agents were not pursued in court, the US cable noted.

The cables revealed the US believed allegations the men were spies: "While Prime Minister Helen Clark would not confirm which service employed the men, she noted that if one were to lay espionage charges then one would have to be prepared to offer the kind of evidence in court which our intelligence agencies do not like coming forward to display.

"We [the US] have very strong grounds for believing these are Israeli intelligence agents," the cable said.

In the wake of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's killing Australia expelled an official from the Israeli embassy.

The move was prompted by an investigation into how the Australian passports were used by the team that carried out the killing of the Hamas operative and confirmation the documents were forgeries.

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