Australia has asked Israel to explain the mysterious death of an Australian-Israeli citizen and alleged Israeli spy in an Israeli prison two years ago, the Australian foreign minister said yesterday.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last week ordered his department to report on its handling of the case of the man dubbed Prisoner-X in the media, who died in an Israeli prison in December 2010.
Carr had initially said his Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had been unaware that the prisoner — who was born Ben Zygier, had an Australian passport in the name of Ben Allen and was also known as Ben Alon — had been in custody until his Australian family asked for his body to be repatriated.
However, Carr corrected the record and ordered the departmental internal investigation on Wednesday after discovering that Australian intelligence officers had alerted some department officials 10 months earlier that the Australia-born Israel resident has been arrested on serious national security charges.
Carr said yesterday that Israel had been asked to contribute to his department’s investigation report.
“We have asked the Israeli government for a contribution to that report,” Carr told reporters.
“We want to give them an opportunity to submit to us an explanation of how this tragic death came about,” he said.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp has reported that Zygier was a Mossad intelligence service agent who hanged himself in a supposedly suicide-proof solitary confinement cell.
The Australian foreign minister at the time of Zygier’s death, government lawmaker and former prime minister Kevin Rudd, has refused to say when he became aware of Zygier’s arrest and death.
However, Rudd urged the government to consider taking action against Israel as it did in 2010 when an Australian investigation concluded that Israel had counterfeited four Australian passports used by a suspected hit squad that murdered a Hamas official in Dubai in January that year.
In May 2010, Australia expelled a member of Israeli’s embassy in retaliation.
“The tradition of this government has to be robust on these matters, even with a country with whom we’ve had the friendliest of relationships going back to the foundation of Israel in 1947,” Rudd told Sky News television.
Australia’s Fairfax Media reported last week that Zygier was one of at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens being investigated by the main Australian spy agency ASIO in early 2010 over suspicions that they were spying for Israel.