UK: Israel’s ambassador sorry over ‘take down’ Sir Alan Duncan comment

Israel’s ambassador to the UK has apologized after a senior member of his staff was secretly filmed saying he wanted to “take down” Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

Israeli Embassy senior political officer Shai Masot made the comment in footage filmed in a London restaurant and obtained by the Mail on Sunday.

He told a reporter that Sir Alan was creating “a lot of problems”.

Ambassador Mark Regev said this was not the embassy or government’s view BBC reported.

Secret recording

The conversation involved Mr Masot and Maria Strizzolo, an aide to education minister Robert Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel, as well as an undercover reporter.

It was recorded in October 2016 as part of an investigation by Al Jazeera.

The BBC understands that Ms Strizzolo has resigned from the civil service.

Mr Masot asked her: “Can I give you some names of MPs that I would suggest you take down?”

Ms Strizzolo replied that all MPs have “something they’re trying to hide” and Mr Masot responded by saying “I have some MPs”, adding “she knows which MPs I want to take down” before specifying “the deputy foreign minister”.

Sir Alan, who has described expanding Israeli settlements as a “stain on the face of the globe”, was seen as more of a problem than Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who was “basically good”, according to Mr Masot in a transcript of the conversation.

“He just doesn’t care. He is an idiot but has become minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities. If something real happened it won’t be his fault… it will be Alan Duncan.”

Sir Alan launched a scathing attack on Israel in 2014, when MPs backed Palestinian statehood, deeming Israeli settlements as an “act of theft”.

“Occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity – this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame on Israel,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.

Sir Alan, who was special envoy to Yemen and Oman at the time, said “international law must be upheld” to prevent further settlements.

Labour has demanded an immediate inquiry into the extent of Israeli “interference” in British politics.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said improper interference was “unacceptable whichever country was involved” adding Mr Masot’s comments were “extremely disturbing”.

She said it was a national security issue and that the Foreign Office’s response was “not good enough”.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Crispin Blunt, Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman, said Mr Masot’s “apparent activity” was “formally outrageous and deserving of investigation”.

But Sir Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former communications director, said the undercover video was a “classic piece of mischief-making” by the Mail on Sunday.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Mr Masot’s comments should be viewed as “extremely comic” rather than “extremely chilling”.

“The Israeli government just wants to shut [the story] down,” he added. “It’s embarrassing”.

Lord Stuart Polak, director of Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “We utterly condemn any attempt to undermine Sir Alan, or any minister, or any member of Parliament.”

Ms Strizzolo told the newspaper that her conversation with Mr Masot was “tongue-in-cheek and gossipy”.

In a statement, the Israeli Embassy said it “rejects the remarks concerning minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable”.

“The comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly,” it said.

“Ambassador Regev on Friday spoke with minister Duncan, apologised for the comments and made clear that the embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel.

“The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

Benjamin Netanyahu accused of offering newspaper owner commercial favours in return for positive coverage

Israeli Prime Minister already being investigated for accepting gifts of champagne and cigars but denies any wrongdoing

According to the Independent Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught on tape offering commercial favours to an Israeli newspaper owner in return for more positive coverage, reports suggest, in a development commentators are describing as an “earthquake” in the police investigation.

The Israeli Prime Minister, who is being investigated for alleged corruption offenses, is said to have been recorded proposing a commercially beneficial deal to Arnon Mozes, the owner of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Israel’s Channel Two television station claimed Mr. Netanyahu had offered to reduce the circulation of Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper that is owned by U.S. billionaire and Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson, if Mozes instructed Yedioth Ahronoth to be more favourable towards the Prime Minister.

Cutting the circulation of Israel Hayom, which is distributed free of charge, would be of clear benefit to Mr Mozes because it is the main competitor of his newspaper in the battle for advertising revenues.

The conversation is reported to have taken place several months ago, although the precise date is unknown. Reports suggest the recording was made by Mr Mozes.

Mr Netanyahu is already under investigation for alleged corruption relating to receiving illegal gifts and donations. He has disputed the allegations and his lawyer said receiving gifts from friends is not illegal.

The Prime Minister is accused of accepting thousands of pounds worth of gifts, including cigars and champagne, from Israeli billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Reports suggest Mr Netanyahu lobbied US Secretary of State John Kerry on Mr Milchan’s behalf while the producer was attempting to acquire a new US visa.

Mr Netanyahu has denied the allegations. Sources said he told his ministers: “This is wrong, incessant pressure from the media on law enforcement. They release balloons and the hot air comes out of them time after time. That will be the case here too.”

Israeli news outlets quoted Mr Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, as saying:  “Any reasonable person knows that there is nothing remotely criminal involved when a close friend gives his friend a gift of cigars.”

The Israeli Prime Minister has been interviewed twice by police in the last week and is reported to have been surprised by the evidence against him.

“He didn’t expect it”, a source who knows the Prime Minister well told Haa’retz.

The evidence of the conversation between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Mozes is said to have been passed to the Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, by investigators early last year. It is unclear what caused the delay in interviewing Mr Netanyahu, although there are suggestions state prosecutors were not clear whether a deal of the nature allegedly proposed by the Prime Minister was actually illegal.

The conversation between the pair was reported by Israeli media to have been initiated by Mr Netanyahu in an attempt to convince the newspaper publisher not to print a story about his son, Yair. The nature of the story is unclear.

Mr Netanyahu is also accused of having accepted a accepted €1 million (£850,000) from Arnaud Mimran, a French businessman currently serving eight years in prison for committing a huge carbon-tax fraud. Mimran claimed during his trial that he had given the money to Mr Netanyahu during the 2009 Israeli election campaign – something the politician has consistently denied.

Last year a spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister said: “Mr. Netanyahu received no prohibited contribution from Mimran. Any other claim is a lie.”

The Prime Minister did, however, admit accepting $40,000 (£33,000) from Mimran in 2001.

Following reports last month that investigators had been given permission by Mr Mandelblit to open a formal investigation into Mr Netanyahu, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Haaretz the allegations were “all nonsense”.

He said: “Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last elections and even before, hostile elements have used heroic efforts to attempt to bring about his downfall, with false accusations against him and his family.

“[The allegation] is absolutely false. There was nothing and there will be nothing.”

Mr Netanyahu is not the first Israeli prime minister to be accused of corruption and his allies have pointed out that such accusations have often come to nothing. Other charges have been proven, however: Ehud Olmert, for example, is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence after being convicted of breach of trust and bribery. Mr Olmert held office from 2006 to 2009 before giving way to Mr Netanyahu.

Civil servant resigns after discussing how to ‘take down pro-Palestine MPs’ with Israeli diplomat Footage secretly recorded by a media outlet appeared to show the civil servant discuss plans to ‘take down’ Tory MP

A former Westminster official has resigned after footage emerged appearing to show her discuss “taking down” pro-Palestinian MPs.

According to Independent Maria Strizzolo, who is a former chief of staff to Conservative MP Robert Halfon, was recorded talking to Israeli embassy official Shai Masot.

The footage, obtained by Al Jazeera, shows Mr. Masot say: “Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?” In response, Ms Strizzolo appears to laugh, before responding: “Well you know, if you look hard enough, I’m sure there is something that they’re trying to hide.”

Ms. Strizzolo has reportedly now resigned from her post at the Skills Funding Agency.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev has apologized for Mr. Masot’s comments, describing them as “unacceptable”.

Labour has demanded an investigation to probe alleged Israeli “interference” in British politics.

During the conversation between the pair, which took place at the Aubaine restaurant near the Israeli embassy in Kensington, Mr. Masot also described Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as “an idiot”.

Ms. Strizzolo told the Mail on Sunday that her conversation with Mr. Masot was “tongue-in-cheek and gossipy”, adding: “Any suggestion that I … could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible.”

She said she knew Mr. Masot “purely socially and as a friend. He is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.”

Policeman ‘killed Greek Ambassador’ at wife’s request- BBC Reports

Police in Brazil say the Greek ambassador to the country was killed by a local police officer who was having an affair with the envoy’s wife.

Kyriakos Amiridis had been missing since Monday. His body was found in a burnt-out car on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

Police say the ambassador’s Brazilian wife, Francoise Amiridis, plotted the murder with her lover.

Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho confessed to strangling him to death, police said.

Ms. Amiridis, 40, has been detained along with Mr. Moreira, 29, and his cousin, Eduardo Melo.

Mr. Melo is said to have been paid about 80,000 reais ($25,000; £20,000) to act as a lookout.

‘Crime of passion’

The three suspects have been questioned and will be held in police custody for another 30 days.

Investigator Evaristo Pontes Magalhaes described the murder as “a tragic, cowardly act,” which police are treating as “a crime of passion”.

“Francoise initially denied the facts. She said she had nothing to do with that. We managed to make her see that she had no alternative and that there was no point in continuing to deny it,” said Mr. Magalhaes at a press conference.

“She fell into contradictions, burst into tears and began to say that the police officer [Sergio Moreira] had carried out her husband’s murder,” he added.

Mr. Magalhaes said Mr. Moreira had a fight with the ambassador and ended up killing him when he went to confront the diplomat about claims of violence against his wife.

He said he acted in self-defence. But Brazilian police have dismissed his statement.

They say the policeman’s cousin confessed to moving the ambassador’s body and gave full details of the plot to murder Mr. Amiridis, implicating both Mr. Moreira and Mrs. Amiridis.

Charred body

The 59-year-old ambassador had traveled from Brasilia to the city of Nova Iguacu, north of Rio, to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays there with his wife and her parents.

The couple had been living together for 15 years and their daughter is 10 years old, local reports said.

Mrs. Amiridis reported her husband missing on Wednesday.

She told police that he had left on Monday in a car he had rented. The burnt-out vehicle was found on Thursday under a flyover on one of the main access roads to Rio with a body inside.

The body was burned beyond recognition, but police said it was that of Mr. Amiridis.

Investigators also said that they had found blood stains on the sofa in the house where the couple was staying and say he was probably stabbed to death there.

Mr. Amiridis served as consul in Rio de Janeiro between 2001 and 2004 and returned to the country as the ambassador earlier this year.

Body found in burnt-out car in Rio ‘believed to be Greek ambassador’

Kyriakos Amiridis last seen on Monday and license plates on the car match his rental vehicle, according to reports

Brazilian police suspect a body discovered inside a charred vehicle in Rio de Janeiro is Greece’s ambassador to Brazil who went missing three days ago, it has been reported.

A police spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on the report by TV channel Globo.

Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis, 59, was last seen on Monday evening leaving the home of friends of his Brazilian wife in a suburb of Rio’s metropolitan area, police had said earlier on Thursday. A state police official said the ambassador’s wife reported him as missing on Wednesday.

Globo showed images of the burnt-out white car in the Nova Iguaçu neighborhood where the ambassador went missing. The station reported that the license plates on the car matched those of Amiridis’s rental vehicle.

An official at the Greek embassy in Brasília would not confirm the ambassador was missing, saying only that he was on vacation in Rio and expected to return to the capital on 9 January.

According to Guardian, Rio police inspector Evaristo Pontes had earlier told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that he did not believe the ambassador was kidnapped. “We’re following some leads, but not that one,” he said. “If it had been [a kidnapping], those who took him would have made contact by now.”

Amiridis previously served as Greece’s consul general in Rio from 2001 to 2004. More recently he was Greece’s ambassador to Libya from 2012 until he took the top Brazil post at the beginning of 2016.

Brazil’s foreign ministry said it had no comment on the case, other than to say it was being fully pursued by police, while Greece’s foreign ministry had no comment.