New Zealand Prime Minister John Key downplayed reports of "suspicious behavior" by groups of Israelis who were in Christchurch during the February 22 quake, Ynet learned Wednesday.
Key commented on the matter during a visit in the United States Tuesday, adding that the matter was under New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) investigation.
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He stressed that although Ofer Mizrahi, the Israeli who was killed during the devastating quake, was found to be in possession of five passports, none of them were New Zealand passports. Key noted that carrying multiple passports was not illegal in New Zealand.
"In the view of the agencies there was no link between those individuals and the Israeli intelligence agencies," he said.
Wellington takes the security of New Zealand "very seriously," he said, "That's why the relevant agencies conducted a thorough investigation… The unusual circumstances which triggered the investigation was the rapid departure from the country of the three surviving members of the group of Israelis in question.
"Security agencies conducted the investigation and found no evidence that the people were anything other than backpackers," Key was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying.
New Zealand media said that claims of nefarious intentions attributed to Israelis following the earthquake, left the Israeli ambassador "angry and upset."
Jerusalem and Wellington's relations were strained once before on a similar matter, when in 2004, two Israelis filed false papers in an attempted to get NZ passports and a local court ruled that they were Mossad spies.
Key refused to answer any questioned regarding the new espionage allegations saying it was "not in the national interest" to comment on active SIS inquiry.
Meanwhile security expert Paul Buchanan told the New Zealand Herald that in his opinion, the police and SIS have reason for concern: "One has to wonder what was going on," he said.
Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur confirmed that Mizrahi was carrying several passports, but rejected the espionage allegations, calling them "science fiction."
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