Newshub can exclusively reveal an incredible new development in the search for the bones of executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen.
While Israel was at war with Syria in the 1960s, the legendary secret agent infiltrated the Syrian Government, leading a double life for years.
When he was uncovered, Cohen was executed and secretly buried somewhere in Syria. Fifty-three years later, the hunt for the body of the Israeli hero continues.
In Sunday's 'Because It Matters', Newshub reveals that New Zealand spies have been investigating a lead with a Syrian refugee living in Auckland.
Khalid al-Hafidh, a man from the Auckland suburb of Glenfield, is the son of Amin al-Hafiz - the Syrian President who oversaw the execution of Cohen and the secret burial of his body.
"I am the son of the only person on this planet who knows where the remains are buried," Khalid told Newshub.
Spies from the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service [NZSIS] contacted Khalid two years ago.
"I was cooperating with the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service in a mission with the Mossad of Israel to help find - to try to find - the remains of the Israeli spy Eli Cohen," Khalid told Newshub.
Mossad is Israel's infamous and powerful spy agency - that Cohen himself worked for.
It was believed that Khalid may have clues to the secret that his father had taken to the grave.
"You are about to hear about a story that nobody has ever heard before. No one," Khalid says.
"I did not want to do it for the money. I did not want to do it for Mossad. I wanted to do it for the wife and children of Eli Cohen."
Early last year, text messages sent from an SIS agent called "Carl" appear to show him brokering a deal. The agent said things such as:
- "I have passed your response to our partners and am waiting [for] a reply."
- "Ensure safety mechanisms are in place for your future."
It appears that Mossad was on the way, with one text saying: "Wait for our partners to arrive before making a decision."
Israel has gone to extreme lengths to retrieve Cohen's remains. His watch was somehow recovered in 2018.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netananyu has also requested Russia to pressure Syria into revealing the location. Syria says it does not know where the remains are.
"They wanted me to help," Khalid says.
Khalid says the spies wanted him to try and talk to his father's close friends or provide insight.
Khalid wanted a million dollars for his services, texting: "1M for the minimum for kick start. Thanks".
The agent replied: "Will do, thanks K".
Khalid then sent his bank details.
"How much is your life worth Mr Patrick. How much is your life worth?" he says.
However, the deal went cold. Mossad went silent. The SIS agent told Khalid they had been trying for a response:
- "Reminding them that they came to us and inconvenience this has placed on you."
- "We have advised them this comms silence is unacceptable. We have told them that if we do not hear from them by the end of next week, all bets are off."
And that was it.
"It was all for good intentions. It went wrong, really wrong," Khalid says.
Confused, Khalid took the case to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, who investigates spies. It was found that:
- "NZSIS is obliged to take reasonable care not to harm human sources."
- "Your complaint raises a question whether NZSIS took reasonable care in all its actions with you."
- "There is a basis for your complaint."
Khalid says he "could" have solved a 53-year-old mystery - yet the case of Eli Cohen's remains is still unsolved.
The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service [NZSIS] says: "[It] works with a range of international intelligence agencies.''
NZSIS says "this cooperation brings significant benefits to New Zealand's national security" - we help them, and they help us.
It says the use of the term 'partner' is generic and is applied to all those agencies with which we have contact. It says this "does not imply any special relationship or endorsement".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Israeli ambassador would not comment.
Khalid says he is not going to take his complaint further but remains happy to help.