Last updated: 19 February, 2013

Prisoner X died by hanging in shower, says Israeli court

Israel denied on Tuesday that a man identified by media as an Australian-Israeli Mossad agent who committed suicide in jail had any contact with Australia’s security services, as a court said he had hanged himself in his cell bathroom.

“Following recent publications, the prime minister’s office stresses that the late Mr Zygier had no contact with the Australian security services and organisations,” the office said, in Israel’s first mention of Ben Zygier by name.

Until Tuesday, Israel had acknowledged only that a prisoner with a foreign passport had committed suicide and went to extreme lengths to cover up the story.

It imposed a media blackout that was only partially eased last week after the story was broken by Australian broadcaster ABC, which said Zygier had been jailed in top-secret conditions in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv.

The premier’s office, in charge of the Mossad spy agency, issued the statement the same day a court said an unnamed inmate committed suicide in prison in 2010.

The court loosened the tight gag order and published part of an inquest, which included a verdict that an unnamed detainee with dual nationality had committed suicide in prison on December 15, 2010.

“There was no dispute that it was a wilful act of the deceased which brought about his death by suicide,” read the report.

The inquest established that the death was a result of hanging, while noting traces of substances in the deceased’s body and abrasions on his arm.

“The deceased was found hanging in the shower of his detention cell, with a sheet around his neck tied to the window of the bathroom,” the report read.

The coroner quoted in the report noted there were also “light abrasions on his left forearm caused by a dry blow that didn’t contribute to the death.”

He also said “a small quantity of a sedative was found in (his) blood, not alcohol or drugs,” without it changing his opinion that the cause of death was hanging.

The inquest also states that the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) could be guilty of “negligence in causing the detainee’s death.”

On Monday, ABC said Zygier was arrested after giving Australian intelligence officials a comprehensive account of a number of Mossad operations.

In its denial on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office stressed that “between Israel and all its organisations and Australia and the Australian security organisations there is excellent cooperation, full coordination and full transparency in dealing with issues at hand.”

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said he believed Zygier’s felony was “more serious” than just a leak to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

“I suspect it was something more serious than just sharing information with ASIO,” he told ABC radio.

Zygier cell was under 24-hour surveillance, sparking a welter of questions about how he could have managed to hang himself, but Israeli media reports said there was no camera in the bathroom to maintain the prisoner’s privacy.

An internal inquiry by the IPS, parts of which were quoted by Maariv newspaper, showed guards only looked at the footage from his cell every “20 to 25 minutes” because he was not classed as a prisoner with suicidal tendencies.

Israel’s parliament is to launch an “intensive” inquiry into the arrest and death of Zygier, who immigrated to Israel around 2001 and was arrested in February 2010.

Australia’s foreign ministry is also preparing its own report into the affair.