Open letter to Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith

Click here for more on the Dubai imbroglio

The article below, published by Ma’an, the Palestine News Agency on the day Mabhou died, reported that he died of cancer.

The official announcement of his death did not take place until nine days later.


To the Hon. Stephen Smith
From Maurice Ostroff

March 25, 2010

Misuse of Australian passports in Dubai

Please allow me to express my appreciation of the dignified, methodical approach expressed in your interview with Samantha Hawley of ABC News yesterday and in particular, your refusal to be drawn into pre-empting the Australian Federal Police report

Certainly, the most serious view must be taken if Israel is in fact found to be guilty of having misused Australian passports, but the focus on Israel as the only suspect, diverts attention away from other avenues that deserve equally intense investigation, if the truth is sought.

For example, the forged Australian passports used in Dubai could have been derived from many sources. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 10, 2009 that websites are selling fake Australian passports for as little as $1250, boasting they will pass the most rigorous border checks.

A Google search for fake passports reveals countless offers for genuine looking but fake EU, British, USA, Canadian and Australian passports.

The offending passports could have been produced at any of the flourishing passport factories in London open for trade with all comers. In June 2006, Sue Reid in the Daily Mail described the “frightening ease”, with which foreign terrorists and criminals can obtain fake EU passports made to order in 48 hours at counterfeiting factories in North London. (note the plural). She bought three forged passports for 1,200 each.

There is a flourishing trade in fake passports. Even the British Home office has admitted to having issued 10,000 genuine British passports to fraudulent applicants. According to Mail online of March 21, 2007, an Al Qaeda fanatic was issued with nine British passports, seven in his own name and two in fraudulent identities, while he was plotting to murder thousands of people in a series of terrorist atrocities.

Another worry is that thousands of stolen passports are still in circulation resulting from a hijack in 2008 of 3,000 blank British passports and visas that were destined for British embassies abroad. The Mail online described the hijacking as a ‘real coup’ to terrorists, illegal immigrants and fraudsters.

With regard to travel advice your general warning is certainly more appropriate than singling out Israel. After all, the photos of passports of the Dubai suspects that have been repeatedly published in the media are proof positive that passports of visitors are routinely copied at Dubai airport. In fact I would be surprised if most international airports do not routinely scan the passports of visitors.

I hope you will agree, sir, that a number of unresolved questions need to be included in the investigation in order to establish the truth. The investigation must not only establish the extent, if any, of Israeli and/or Arab culpability but also whether Mr. Mabhouh was in fact murdered, committed suicide or died by misadventure. There are many angles to investigate. For example

a) Gulf News reported that when the body was found on January 20 at 13.30, the door to Mr. Mabhouh’s room was securely locked from the inside and latched with the safety chain in place, indicating the possibility of suicide or misadventure. It is astonishing that this vital information has been glossed over instead of receiving the attention it calls for. On the one hand the media and the Dubai Police describe the Mossad as clumsy and incompetent, having been unaware of the CCTV cameras and leaving behind evidence including DNA samples. On the other hand they assume that Mossad agents are so brilliant that they are able to leave a room securely locked from the inside with a latch and chain firmly in place.

b) On the very day the body was discovered, Palestine News Agency Ma’an reported that Mabnouh had died of cancer, indicating a possible hasty cover-up of a possible embarrassing suicide or other misadventure. This was followed by silence on the subject until the official announcement of his death, nine days later, allowing sufficient time to change the cancer story and invent an assassination implicating Israel, with video clips and false passports deliberately using the identities of people living in Israel, in order to cast suspicion on that country.

The use of Israeli identities in the fake passports is a powerful indicator that Israel was not involved. It is highly improbable that if the Mossad had prepared the forged passports they would have pointed the finger at Israel by using the identities of persons living there, while passports in the names of persons with alternative domiciles are so easily available.

c) The hotel’s CCTV cameras clearly cover the doors to the rooms as is evident from one of the video clips of “Gail” walking in the corridor with the doors in the background. That the cameras did not capture the crucial evidence for which they are intended, namely to photograph culprits breaking into and leaving Mabhouh’s room points either to a damming security failure or the possibility that there was no irregular entry into the room.

The many widely distributed video clips of people walking outside the elevators and at the airport are meaningless. In a busy hotel this happens all the time and it is not difficult to piece together shots taken at different times to produce a fictional sequence.

d) To compound the confusion, on March 3, the London Telegraph reported that Al-Quds Al-Araby reported that Hamas itself believe that �the security forces of an Arab state were behind the assassination�. No less than Mahmoud Nasser, a member of Hamas� political bureau spoke of efforts to kill Mabhouh who was being tracked by agents from Jordan and Egypt as he was in possession of information dangerous to particular Arab elements seeking to topple Islamist resistance.

On February 22, The Independent reported that Gulf News and al-Khaleej newspapers in the United Arab Emirates quoted police chief, Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, as saying that a Hamas member played a significant role in the killing of Mabhouh.

The report also referred to a request by the Gaza-based Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, that the UAE extradite to Gaza two Palestinian suspects the Dubai police are holding in connection with the assassination.

Al Asharq Alawsat carried the headline “Palestinian Dubai Murder Suspects are Hamas Members – Palestinian Security Official” The PA police spokesman said, “.. they work for the security apparatus of Hamas, and one of them holds the rank of major..I ask Hamas to reconsider and open investigations into all previous assassinations, and inform us how Hamas Interior Minister Said Seyam was assassinated, as well as Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi, and senior Hamas member Ismail Abu Shanab, and many others.”

A dispassionate observer cannot help but observe the zealous focus on Israel while all other suspicious avenues are ignored, though intellectual honesty would require they be examined with equal diligence.

e) Despite the brouhaha about fake passports, the Dubai Police Chief told Press TV that the passports used by members of the terrorist squad who killed Mabhouh were not fake. He said that Dubai immigration officers have undergone training courses by European security experts and are qualified to spot fake documents.

f) Details of forged passports used by the supposed assailants have been widely publicized, but one must ask why no information at all has been provided about the five fake passports used by Mabhouh. Was there a fake Australian passport among them?

Sir, in the circumstances above, I respectfully urge you to take into account the many avenues that need to be investigated in order to arrive at a fair and just evaluation of the matter.

This open letter will be made public and your considered response will be appreciated and will be similarly published

Maurice Ostroff

Stephen Smith’s interview with ABC World Today

24 March 2010

ELEANOR HALL: The British Government’s action has increased the pressure on Australia’s Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, to take a similarly bold approach. The Minister is now in our Canberra studio, to speak to him, Samantha Hawley.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Stephen Smith, thanks for joining The World Today.

STEPHEN SMITH: My pleasure.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband this morning revealed he’s spoken to you about his decision to expel this Israeli diplomat. Did you discuss the possibility of Australia taking similar action?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, he gave me the courtesy of letting me know that he was proposing to make his statement to the House of Commons, also indicated that he would make the report, the report of his investigative authority, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, available to our agencies, in particular to the Australian Federal Police. I thanked him for his courtesy, it’s not the first time we’ve discussed the matter generally, I was in London with him, when the story broke publicly.

So we’ve discussed it on a couple of occasions, but he wanted me to know, because he obviously knew we were conducting investigations of our own, and at some stage in the future, we’ll have cause to contemplate that report from the Australian Federal Police, and to contemplate what action, if any, Australia will take.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And to contemplate expelling diplomats from here?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think it’s very important to take this step by step. The decisions that the United Kingdom Government have made are of course a matter for it. They’ve obviously taken the matter, correctly, very seriously. They’ve made decisions in a way in which they regard acting in the United Kingdom’s best interest. We have a similar process we need to follow, we have an investigation underfoot, and we will await the results of that investigation by the Australian Federal Police…

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And how much longer will we need to wait?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m not proposing to put a timetable on it, that’s a matter for the Australian Federal Police. What we do know of course is that we were alerted to this as a difficulty for Australia, about 10 to 14 days after the United Kingdom became aware, so there’s a natural lag or gap there. But I’m not putting a timetable on it, that’ll be a matter for the Australian Federal Police.

Obviously the AFP have been liaising with their British counterparts. Obviously they will take this report into account when they make and conclude their investigations, but we’ll take it step by step, I’ll get their report, we’ll then make judgements and decisions, which we regard as being in Australia’s national interest.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Well Britain says it’s intolerable, and no country can stand by such a situation. You’ve made similar statements, so surely you will have to act, and have to act strongly?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve made it very clear to the Israeli Ambassador privately, and to the Australian public and the Parliament generally, that we take this matter very seriously. But we will take it in a sensible, methodical approach, and normally of course, when another Government makes decisions, I wouldn’t comment publicly on them, or reflect on them. In this case, I think it’s doubly important, because to make any commentary or remarks upon what the United Kingdom Government has done, would necessarily cut across our own investigation, and what decisions we might make.

I think suffice to say, we’re treating this matter very seriously. Israel understands that, and when I receive the report, we’ll make judgements which will be in Australia’s national interest.

Obviously we’ll take into account what other countries have done, and the United Kingdom is not the only country caught up in this, regrettably there’s also France, Ireland and Germany.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The British investigation has found compelling evidence that Jerusalem had cloned the UK passports used in that assassination, do you think Mossad was involved, do you think it was state-sanctioned?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, to comment on that, to be drawn on that, would be to preempt the Australian Federal Police inquiry, and the Government’s consideration of it. One thing I am happy to say, as I did at the outset, we have not, as a Government, received anything to indicate to us that the four Australian passports concerned, and the Australian passport holders, were anything other than innocent victims. I think it’s important to reaffirm that point, but to be drawn on anything else, would be to pre-empt our investigation.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: So you probably won’t be drawn on this, but I will ask it, if it is found to be a state-sanctioned killing, will you condemn Israel for that?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think the prescience of your preamble is right, I won’t be drawn on that.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Do you, like David Miliband, want a public assurance from Israel, that this type of forgery will never happen again?

STEPHEN SMITH: Again, that assumes a conclusion, which we’re not yet in a position to arrive at. Very many of these questions are perfectly appropriate, and obvious questions, but at the correct time, which is once I’ve received the Australian Federal Police report, and we’ve had the chance to consider it. That’s the process which the United Kingdom Government followed, that’s a sensible process, and we’ll be doing the same.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And on travel advice for Australians in Israel?

STEPHEN SMITH: We already have in our travel advice for Israel, and for other countries, a general warning about people having to be aware of the importance of their passport, and take careful steps in its use, and to avoid handing it over to others. There’s a general warning there, whether advice in respect of passports needs to change generally, or indeed for a particular country, again, I’ll consider that in the context of the report to me by the Australian Federal Police.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Okay, well can we turn to the matter of the Stern Hu trial in China? Were you surprised that he admitted to some part of the bribery charges there?

STEPHEN SMITH: This may be a recurring theme of this interview, so I regret that, but I’ve made it clear through officials that I’m not proposing to be drawn on a commentary on the trial, until the trial processes have completed. Now we expect…

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Okay, well can I ask you, are you confident that it wasn’t an admission by him made under duress?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we expect the trial processes in terms of the hearing, to conclude today. The courts made it clear that it expected a three day hearing, today is the last day of that scheduled hearing. Regrettably it also coincides with that part of the trial to which Australian officials don’t have access. We regret that, and we’ve made that point to Chinese officials. But I’m not proposing to be drawn on a commentary of any of these matters, until the trial processes have concluded.

Now we expect that the trial hearing itself will complete today. We’re also expecting, in the normal course of events, that the court would adjourn to consider its verdict, and to consider sentencing if that is required. So there may well be some time, a matter of days between the end of the hearing today, and those further processes. But I won’t be drawn on any of these matters, until we’ve seen those processes completed. And then I’m happy to discuss the matter in detail, which is appropriate, given the importance of this matter to Australia, and given the importance of our responsibility to act on behalf of an Australian citizen who is caught up in these matters.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Alright, Stephen Smith, thanks very much for your time.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, speaking to Samantha Hawley in Canberra.