x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Three countries tussle over Israeli suspect arrested in al Mabhouh investigation

Israel, Poland and Germany involved over man travelling under same name as suspected Mossad agent in custody in Warsaw.

BERLIN // Given the spy novel drama surrounding the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, the first arrest in the case was surprisingly low-key, but it has already sparked tensions between Israel and its allies Poland and Germany. On June 4, Polish police at Warsaw airport picked up an Israeli citizen travelling under the name Uri Brodsky after a routine passport check in which the name had flashed up on a European wanted list.

The man was taken into custody in the Polish capital pending a court ruling on a German request for his extradition to face charges there. The wanted notice stemmed from a decision on April 13, when the federal prosecutor's office in the German city of Karlsruhe issued an arrest warrant for a suspected Mossad agent named Uri Brodsky. The warrant alleged that he helped one of the suspected assassins obtain a German passport in the name of Michael Bodenheimer.

The Karlsruhe prosecutor's office said the arrested man was "under urgent suspicion of cooperating in obtaining the passport in Germany". The Warsaw arrest made headlines around the world even though German officials have stressed that they are not investigating the suspect on any murder charges, only on suspicion of intelligence activity and obtaining a German passport under false pretences. Mr Brodsky's Polish lawyer, Marcin Maminski, is fighting the extradition and said his client is the victim of mistaken identity.

"Brodsky is his name, but you can imagine that there is not only one Uri Brodsky in the world, it doesn't confirm that he was the one," Mr Maminski told The National. "He has become involved in the case by coincidence." Mr Maminski said Mr Brodsky is an Israeli businessman who had been returning from a trip that had taken him from Tel Aviv to Vienna, from Vienna to Warsaw, and from Warsaw to Vilnius, Lithuania.

"On his way home he came back to Warsaw airport and was arrested there," said Mr Maminski. "My job is to send him back to Israel. I would say that my goal is rather hard to achieve but I will do my best." He declined to say what business Mr Brodsky was involved in. The Warsaw prosecutor's office filed a request for Mr Brodsky's extradition to Germany with the city's district court this week. Mr Maminski said a second court hearing was expected to take place next week.

The European Union has standardised judicial procedures to speed up the extradition of suspects between member states, but it remained unclear how long it would take before the Polish court reached a decision. In the meantime, Israeli politicians are urging Poland to repatriate Mr Brodsky to Israel, while German justice authorities remain adamant that he should be brought before a German court. Israel's transport minister, Israel Katz, an ally of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: "Israel must resist the extradition of one of its citizens to a third country and use all means to make sure that he returns to his home country."

In Germany, where unwavering support for Israel is a tenet of state doctrine because of the Holocaust, government officials have been guarded in their comments and have stressed that the matter is up to the legal authorities. In Poland, the prime minister, Donald Tusk, said the case was "delicate" and that he was working to prevent it from harming relations with Israel. German authorities believe Mr Brodsky helped another suspected Mossad agent to apply for a new identity card and a passport in the name Michael Bodenheimer at a registry office in the western city of Cologne in the early summer of 2009.

Unlike Britain, Australia and Ireland, Germany has refrained from expelling any Israeli diplomats for the use of forged passports from their countries. Germany may now find itself in the awkward position of conducting a trial that could shed light on the case. dcrossland@thenational.ae