Australia on Wednesday admitted for the first time that a man found hanged in a Tel Aviv jail worked for the Israeli government, but stopped short of confirming he was a Mossad spy.
Dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier, known as “Prisoner X”, died in 2010 in an allegedly suicide-proof cell with Israel going to extreme lengths to cover it up, sparking claims by Australian media that he worked for Mossad.
In releasing a report into his department’s handling of Zygier’s imprisonment, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said it was a complicated case.
“Mr Zygier went off to live in another country, for 10 years, took out citizenship of that country, worked for its government,” he said.
“And if reports are to be believed, he worked for one of its intelligence services. That’s not something I can deny or confirm. You can draw your own conclusions.”
That Zygier managed to hang himself while being held in a high security prison under continuous surveillance has fed conspiracy theories.
Last month, ABC television said Zygier, 34, was arrested after giving Australian intelligence officials a comprehensive account of a number of Mossad operations. Israel denied this.
Carr said he was awaiting the outcome of Israeli investigations into the matter.
“As for our relations with Israel in this matter, Israel did provide the family access and visits by his legal representation. There were no complaints from his family or lawyer about access,” he told a press conference.
“We did seek details about the charges against him but the Israeli government declined to provide this. It was covered by a gag order in Israel.
“We await the outcome of, apparently, several inquiries being carried out in Israel. We reserve our right to seek further information from Israel,” Carr added.
In Australia’s own report into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) handling of the case, Carr criticised a lack of clarity in government decision making over consular responsibilities.
“The Zygier case was complex and outside the normal bounds of consular activity,” he said.
“However, it is unsatisfactory that there was a lack of clarity over the exercise of consular responsibilities.”
Carr said it was not good enough that details of assistance provided by Israeli authorities to Zygier were not sought by or provided to DFAT until he ordered the review.
The report recommended any Australian agency that becomes aware of the detention of an Australian citizen tell the relevant ambassador or high commissioner, unless the foreign minister grants an exemption.