Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pressure on new Israeli envoy builds

Israel is coming under increasing pressure to reconsider its latest diplomatic appointment to Australia after complaints that the official had been involved in a South American sex scandal.

This comes amid reports that the diplomat he is replacing, Amir Laty - allegedly expelled in December on national security grounds - believes he may have been forced out of Australia because of his close contact with Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's daughter.

In the latest of a series of controversies besetting Israel's Canberra embassy, some Australian Jewish leaders have protested at the appointment of Aryeh Scher as a senior consul. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Zegev confirmed Mr Scher had previously been censured for improper conduct in Brazil, but an inquiry determined he had not indulged in criminal behaviour.

Mr Zegev said concerns had been raised "from several quarters" about the appointment, "so we are having a second look at the appointment because we take these concerns very seriously".

Mr Scher had been "a young single man in Brazil" five years ago. An Israeli Civil Service Commission hearing into sex ring allegations found "behaviour unbecoming of a diplomat, but there was no criminal conduct", Mr Zegev said.

He firmly rejected media reports that Mr Scher had been part of a child sex ring.

Graeme Leonard, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said he had not complained to Israel. "My executive took the view that it was best left to the Government to sort out, and we were confident they would," he told The Age.

Australian Jewish News editor Dan Goldberg said the Israeli Foreign Ministry had shown a "blatant disregard" for the spotlight shining on the embassy because of the Laty affair in deciding "to dispatch a diplomat who had been implicated by Brazilian police, rightly or wrongly, in a child sex scandal".

But Mr Goldberg has editorialised to defend Mr Laty, suggesting he was expelled in tit-for-tat diplomacy because one of two Israelis convicted in New Zealand last year for passport fraud had been living in Sydney.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he had no comment.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ruddock said any link between his daughter and Mr Laty had no connection to his departure. Mr Ruddock is responsible for the ASIO spy agency. The Age has confirmed reports that Mr Laty had been invited to spend time at the Ruddock home at Christmas. It is believed the invitation was withdrawn after Australian authorities ordered his expulsion.

It is not believed that the relationship was close, but ASIO is believed to have had concerns about Mr Laty's motivations.

Caitlin Ruddock, 26, is an accounting lecturer at the University of NSW. She is believed to have met Mr Laty while studying in Beijing.

Ms Ruddock would not elaborate yesterday, saying only: "This issue has nothing to do with me. You should speak to my dad's office."

Mr Laty's expulsion has been linked to his visits to two Mossad agents convicted for attempting to fraudulently obtain passports in New Zealand. Government sources have also tried to claim that the move against Mr Laty was due to his personal relationships, and alleged pursuit of women, in Canberra - including Defence Department employees


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