– Israeli government representatives tried to hut down the investigation into the death in custody of Ben Zygier, the Australian suspected of spying for Mossad, arguing there was no indication of criminal action or negligence in the matter.
But his family – once they were allowed to view the evidence – successfully fought for for the investigation to continue, a report from the judge who led the inquiry into his death, Daphna Blatman-Kedrai, reveals. “The state concluded its arguments in the deliberation on [September 13th, 2011], even before the family was permitted to peruse the evidentiary material and then claimed…the case must be closed after it was not learned from the investigation that the death of the deceased was brought about by means of a criminal action,” Judge Blatman-Kedrai’s report reads.
After viewing the evidence, the family submitted a factual argument and a conclusion according to which the investigation uncovered a series of failures that point to having caused death by negligence.
The judge handed down her report in secret on December 19th, 2012, in which she found there is alleged evidence that failures on the part of various elements of the Prison Service caused his death.
Her report was partially released on Tuesday in response to the media’s Supreme Court bid to further lift the gag order on the details of Mr Zygier’s arrest, detention and death.
Seeking to put an end to speculation that Mr Zygier had been arrested for passing on information to ASIO, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied Mr Zygier had any contact with the Australian security agencies.
Some media reports suggested that the 34-year-old Mr Zygier was arrested by Israeli security services for giving intelligence to ASIO officials about Mossad’s practice of using Australian passports to spy in countries hostile to Israel.
Mr Netanyahu moved to hose down any possibility of a rift between Australia and Israel, his office stating there is excellent cooperation, full coordination and complete transparency in dealing with current issues between the countries.
It is the first time Israeli government has mentioned Mr Zygier by name since the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program identified him as “Prisoner X” in a report last Tuesday.
Fairfax Media revealed Mr Zygier, who immigrated to Israel in 2000 and travelled to Australia to change his name and passport at least three times, was under ASIO surveillance at the time of his arrest in February 2010 and was suspected, with two other dual Australian-Israeli citizens, of spying for Mossad.
The report into his death found he removed a sheet from his bed and went to the shower, where he believed he would be out of the gaze of prison guards.
It was there he was found hanged at 8:19 pm on December 15th, 2010 – the bed sheet attached to the cell’s window, according to the report.
Some senior ministers, such as Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, have publicly criticised the decision to withhold information about Mr Zygier’s case from the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee, however Mr Netanyahu continues to defend the decision.
There are further inquiries into the matter. The State-Attorney’s Office is looking into the allegations of negligence by the Prison Service, while a sub-committee of the Knesset is conducting its own inquiry.
The Australian government is also conducting an inquiry into the death – Ruth Pollard