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Middle East

Israeli 'Prisoner X' investigation: Gag order lifted


Ben Zygier was not an Australian double agent Israel said last night scotching speculation that the Mossad operative, who apparently committed suicide in a maximum security jail two years ago, had betrayed the Jewish state.

The Israeli-Australian was held for months in a high security prison before killing himself in December 2010. Such was the security about his case, Zygier was known only as 'Prisoner X' during his detention, even to his guards. Last week, Australian television lifted the lid on Zygier's identity, but what he was accused of doing is still not known.

Speculation, largely coming from Australia, has centred on Zygier leaking details about his Mossad activities to Asio - Australia's spy service. Last night the office of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement flatly denying the Asio link. "Ben Zygier did not have any contact with the Australian intelligence."

What the prime minister's office did not address, however, was what Zygier was accused of. Earlier in the week officials within the Israeli government said that it was unlikely to comment on the various theories. If Israel has dismissed the idea that Zygier was a double agent, it begs the question what he could have done that was so heinous as to warrant months in solitary confinement, and his case being such a closely guarded secret. He killed himself days after the birth of his second daughter.

The German magazine Spiegel reported that Zygier was part of an Israeli-Australian Mossad team that established an electronics company in Milan that was a front for making contacts in Iran - the magazine also identified two other Mossad agents who repeatedly changed their name to obtain new Australian passports. Spiegel said that the Australian authorities had become suspicious with the continued requests for passports - it is also thought that Zygier requested consular assistance in Tehran.

Israel did partially lift a gag order over a judge's report into Zygier's suicide, which said that guards at the jail had been ordered to prevent him from killing himself. The disclosure showed that Zygier died after hanging himself in the bathroom of his cell using bed sheets. He was able to take his own life despite being in a cell fitted with round-the-clock CCTV.

Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai's report said; "I have found evidence allegedly suggesting the fault of elements in the Israel Prison Service [IPS].

"The duties placed on the IPS in connection to the deceased were particularly complex given the cloak of secrecy, gaps in information and compartmentalisation.

"Nevertheless, orders to prevent suicide were given and the elements entrusted with guarding the prisoner were aware of them. These orders were not upheld and a 'window of opportunity' was used by the deceased to commit suicide." There is no suggestion in the report that any crime was committed by the prison guards.

Despite the details in the report, there are still large gaps in the detail about Zygier's death. A lawyer acting for the spy said that he visited his client the day before he died on 15 December 2010, and that he was considering a plea bargain that would have seen him serve between 10 and 20 years in prison. Zygier died just days after the birth of his second daughter. Israel insists that due process was followed throughout the case. Israel has insisted that the allegations were serious and that due process was followed in the case.

It was noted in Zygier's post mortem report that his body showed some evidence of bruising, but that it was not possible to determine whether they were caused before or after his death. A small quantity of tranquilisers was found in his system.