Urie Kelman's face was always hidden behind a balaclava or scarf. Or his hands.

During his enforced stay in New Zealand, the alleged Israeli secret service agent went to great lengths to avoid being photographed.

Yesterday in the High Court at Auckland, Kelman sat in the dock, his right hand obscuring his face.


The first time I saw Kelman, he stood out like a beacon at sea. He turned up at the Auckland District Court wearing a loud mauve collared shirt, trousers, hiking socks and plain black dress shoes. Tall and slim with the build of an athlete, he carried a Hallensteins shopping bag.

But what made him stand out was his red hair and fair, fair skin.

Over the months, he changed the colour of his hair and grew a beard to disguise himself but he still had the problem of his hands.

The skin was so fair as to almost be translucent and it was splattered with red freckles.

It was a distinguishing feature Kelman was aware of. He took to wearing gloves, and when he couldn't do that, he would always shove his hands in his pockets.

We can only guess why he wanted to prevent his image being published.

At 31, he may have figured that publication of his photograph would limit his career prospects with secret service agencies. Or perhaps there are people looking for him because of assignments he has carried out elsewhere.

Whatever the reason, he was determined to elude photographers.


On that first day in the Auckland District Court, he paced the corridors looking for an escape route. He was being tailed by a Herald reporter and knew there were two photographers outside waiting for him, so for about an hour after his case had been dealt with, he sussed out an exit, chattering constantly into his cellphone in Hebrew. Somehow, he managed to give the Herald the slip - still no one can figure out how.

Once the story broke, Kelman was conscious that he would be the target of more media interest. Camera crews and photographers staked out his central Auckland hotel, the Duxton, where he was under a curfew from 7pm to 7am.

By day, he would ride his mountain bike, go to a gym in St Heliers and swim at the Olympic Pool in Newmarket.

Each day, he had a date with the police. Before noon, he had to check in at the Auckland Central police station as part of his bail conditions.

One day in April, the Herald went to the police station to photograph him. About 11.15am, a taxi pulled up. Out jumped Kelman in running shoes, cargo pants and a sweatshirt, with a ski mask over his eyes. He sprinted straight at the photographer and popped open an umbrella.

After signing in at the police station, he arranged his taxi pick-up on his cellphone, then darted up the road with the photographers in pursuit, running so fast his umbrella popped inside out. He dived into the taxi. Geoff Levy, a lawyer and Jewish community leader, was in the back.


The last time I saw Kelman, I did not recognise him. It was at the High Court last week where he had come to plead guilty to a passport fraud charge with his co-accused, Eli Cara.

For some reason, Cara never seemed as eager to avoid being photographed as Kelman. The first time he encountered Herald photographers, he pulled the hood of his raincoat on to try to shield his face, but after that, he didn't seem to mind the cameras.

At the High Court last week, Cara walked in relaxed, smartly dressed in a suit, without any attempt to hide his face. He took a seat in the back of courtroom seven waiting for the judge. I recognised most other people in the court, but for the life of me, I could not see Kelman.

Next to Cara, there was a man I did not know. He wore a dark blue jacket and a white shirt, and had a scarf around his neck. His hair was thick and black and he had a full black beard like the ones you see on Orthodox Jews. I thought he must be a supporter of Cara.

It was only when the judge called Kelman's and Cara's names, and the bearded man came forward, that I realised who it was. He could not have looked more different from the athletic red head who I'd first seen.

I would not have believed the man in court that day was Kelman - if it weren't for his hands.