Israel denies claims by Egypt of involvement in espionage

JERUSALEM — Israel has categorically rejected Egyptian claims Tuesday to have uncovered an Israeli spy ring in Egypt.

Charges of Israeli involvement are "completely baseless," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. "Israel vehemently denies any involvement in the reported espionage case in Egypt," she said.

Egyptian officials said they had charged 35-year-old Shereef Fawzi Mohammed Falali, an Egyptian engineer, with spying for Israel, according to an indictment issued by prosecutors. A Russian citizen allegedly working for Mossad, Israel's spy agency, was also charged in the case, but remains at large and will be tried in absentia, according to the officials.

The indictment comes at a tense time in Egyptian-Israeli relations, following Cairo's recall of Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny last week.

Israeli government officials were careful not to link the new espionage allegations to the tension in relations, but noted that reporting in the official Egyptian press has increasingly been aimed at "poisoning relations" between the two countries.

Falali will be tried before a state security court, but no date has yet been set for the trial, officials said.

According to the officials, Falali was recruited in Spain by the Mossad. He was arrested Sept. 27 at his home in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, where "equipment used for intelligence purposes" was found.

His computer contained some of the "political, economic and military information" that he is alleged to have passed to Israel.

Falali remains in custody, they added, but it was not immediately clear whether a lawyer has been appointed to defend him. He can only enter a plea when his trial begins, according to Egypt's judicial procedure.

The officials said Falali had provided the Mossad with information on Egypt's arms industry and major tourism and agricultural projects.

They said Falali graduated with a civil engineering degree from Cairo University in 1990. He left for Germany when he could not find work in Egypt. There, he met and fell in love with a "Jewish German woman." Identified only as "Irini," she introduced Falali to a man claiming to be the head of the Mideast section in a major company who asked him to learn Hebrew.

Falali later traveled to Spain, where he met the Russian "citizen" who posed as an arms trader, but was in reality a Mossad agent, they added. The Russian later introduced him to two Mossad officers who trained him on "intelligence and espionage work" and commissioned him to photograph Egyptian military installations, said the officials.

Falali also traveled to several European nations, meeting with other Mossad agents and receiving cash payments for the information he provided. He visited Egypt several times, and settled there in 1998, the officials said.