Israel has partially lifted a gagging order in the mysterious case of ‘Prisoner X’ and formally recognised that an Israeli with dual citizenship had committed suicide in one of the country’s most secure prisons in 2010.
Earlier this week the Australian television network, ABC, broadcast a devastating documentary which claimed that ‘Prisoner X’ was an Australian-Israeli called Ben Zygier, a former Mossad agent whose incarceration was so secret that even his jailors didn’t know his name.
The Israeli Justice Ministry issued a statement, which makes no mention of Zygier's name, but it does concede, for the first time, that a man was held in a maximum security prison and that he died as a result of suicide.
“For security reasons, the prisoner was held under a pseudonym, but his family was notified of the arrest immediately. The prisoner was held by proxy of an arrest warrant issued by the court. The proceedings were overseen by senior officials in the Justice Ministry and he was duly represented in all the proceedings against him by attorneys Roi Belcher, Moshe Mazor and Boaz Ben-Zur,” the statement read. “The prisoner's legal rights were observes at all times, according to the law.”
The ministry’s statement said that six weeks ago, the investigation found that suicide was the cause of the prisoner’s death, however, a judge had recommended that the state investigate a negligence investigation.”
“National security prevents the release of any other details in this case,” the statement said.
The Israeli government hastily called a meeting of senior journalists and editors on Tuesday, warning them not to publish the story. The exact nature of what crime Zygier is supposed to have committed remains a mystery, and it appears that even Australian officials in Canberra were unaware of the case until earlier this week.
Leading Israeli human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman told the Ynet news website: “I'm the last lawyer who saw him alive. They asked me to see him and a day after that he was gone. When I saw him, I saw no signs that he was going to kill himself. He sounded rational and he asked pertinent legal questions, that I can't expand on.”
Zygier was thought to be 34 years old when died and left behind an Israeli wife and two young daughters. It has been widely reported that he was an agent in the Mossad. Neither his Israeli nor Australian family have spoken about the circumstances of Zygier’s death, or what he was being held for.
It is understood that he died in Israel’s high security Ayalon prison, which is used to house Israel’s worst offenders, including Yigal Amir, the right-wing fanatic who killed then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
He died on 15 December 2010 and his funeral was held in Melbourne a week later – however, his body was transported back to Australia under the name of Ben Allen, the same name used on Zygier’s second passport.
Australia ordered an inquiry into the case. The inquiry will focus on the suggestion that some foreign ministry officials – possibly diplomats based at the embassy in Tel Aviv – had been made aware in 2010 that Mr Zygier was being held in jail in Israel, but had not passed on the information to officials in Canberra.
“DFAT [Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade] had advised that it was unaware of Mr Allen's detention in Israel,” a spokesman said.
“DFAT has now advised that some officers of the department were made aware of Mr Allen's detention at the time in 2010 by another Australian agency.”
The Australian newspaper The Age reported that Zygier was under investigation by Australian intelligence in the months before he was arrested in Israel. He was being looked into for fraudulent use of his Australian passport for espionage purposes.