Australia told of Israeli detention
Published 14/02/2013 | 07:21
Australia's foreign minister has said that his government was notified through Australian security channels of the arrest of an Australian-Israeli citizen in Israel in 2010 on serious security charges months before the man died in prison.
Israel acknowledged for the first time that it had held the Australia-born dual Israeli citizen under a false name for security reasons and that he died in prison more than two years ago - details that shed new light on a case that has strained relations with its close ally Australia and raised questions about its secretive Mossad agency.
The admission confirmed key elements of an Australian TV report while leaving unanswered major questions about the case, including the man's identity, why he was incarcerated, if he was an Australian citizen and whether he worked for Mossad.
The Australian government said the man's Australian passport had the name Ben Allen but he was also known as Ben Alon. His prominent Melbourne-based family knows him as Ben Zygier. He was referred to as Zygier or not referred to by name by senators during a Senate hearing on Thursday.
"The Australian government was informed in February 2010 through intelligence channels that the Israeli authorities had detained a dual Australian-Israeli citizen, and they provided the name of the citizen, in relation to serious offences under Israeli national security legislation," Foreign minister Bob Carr told the Senate committee.
Australia sought assurances through a spy agency that Zygier's legal rights would be respected, he would have his choice of lawyer, his family had been notified of his arrest and that he was not being mistreated, he said, adding: "The Australian government relied on these assurances. The Israeli government further advised the Australian government that the individual would be treated in accordance with his lawful rights as an Israeli citizen."
Neither Zygier nor his family ever asked for consular assistance, Mr Carr said. The Australian Embassy was not informed of Zygier's detention until the day after he died on December 15, 2010, department secretary Peter Varghese said.
Mr Varghese declined to say whether Australia's main spy agency ASIO or the highly secretive spy agency operated out of Australia's overseas diplomatic missions, ASIS, was the Australian intelligence channel that provided the information. He also declined to comment on media reports that Zygier had been under investigation by ASIO.
Mr Carr had told an Australian Broadcasting Corp television in a program that aired on Tuesday that his department only became aware of the Zygier's arrest after his death when his family asked for his remains to be repatriated. Mr Carr corrected the record on Wednesday and ordered his department to review its handling of the case.
The ABC report said Zygier was working for Mossad when he was placed in a maximum-security prison for an unspecified crime in 2010. The report said he died in December of that year, apparently by suicide. After Zygier was found dead in his cell, a judge ordered an investigation. About six weeks ago, the investigation concluded that he committed suicide. However, a judge has now asked the state to check for possible negligence.