On Tuesday the Israeli government released ten of the 29 pages of a report into the death of Ben Zygier, following the partial curtailment of a sweeping gag order in the case.
Zygier, according to foreign reports, was a suspected Mossad agent, who killed himself for unknown reasons in an Israeli jail in December 2010.
"There is evidence that omissions by personnel of the Israel Prison Service caused Ben Zygier's death," the president of the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court, Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai wrote in the Dec. 19, 2012 report.
Following release of the report, it was decided on Wednesday that four Israel Prison Service employees, two officers and two wardens, will be placed on trial for dereliction of duty in the case. The two wardens were working in the control room that received images from Prisoner X's cell. At this stage it is not clear whether they will face disciplinary or criminal trials. The attorney-general will make a decision in the coming days.
According to the report, Zygier used a wet sheet to hang himself from the bars of the bathroom window in his high-surveillance cell in Ayalon prison. On Tuesday Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein agreed to partial publication of the report.
The investigation into the circumstances of Zygier's death raises questions as to whether Israel Prison Service personnel were derelict in their duty when they failed to prevent his suicide.
Zygier was found dead on Dec. 15, 2010 at 8:19 p.m., when he was found hanging in the bathroom of Cell 15.
"The duties placed on personnel of the Israel Prison Service regarding the deceased were particularly complex and onerous, in light of the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding the instructions as to how to supervise him," the judge wrote. "At the same time, the prison staff were told to conduct special surveillance over him because he was potentially suicidal, and these orders were fully apparent to those supervising him. These supervision orders were not carried out properly and during the prisoner's "suicidal window of opportunity," the worst actually occurred and he killed himself."
The report shows that the state asked the court to close the case after the cause of death was investigated without finding a guilty party, on the claim that "it was not learned from the investigation that the death of the deceased was caused by some criminal offense, including causing death through negligence." On the other hand, Zygier's family claimed that "the investigation raised a series of omissions that are tantamount to causing death by negligence."
The judge rejected the government's request, writing, "I found that there is evidence of guilt on the part of Israel Prison Service personnel in causing the death of the deceased. However, the decision whether or not to put someone on trial involves additional considerations, like the strength of the evidence and the enforcement policy. The state must reconsider its position on whether to place someone on trial." As a result, the judge transferred her decision and the material gathered in the case to the state attorney, which is at present examining whether Zygier's death was caused by negligence.
Anti-anxiety pills in his blood
Regarding Zygier's actual death, medical law expert Dr. Ricardo Nahman found that Zygier died of strangulation caused by the tightening of the loop in the sheet around his neck. Traces of anti-anxiety medication were found in his blood, but it was determined that this did not change the cause of death.
In the course of the investigation, the possibility that an additional person was involved in Zygier's death was examined, but the judge determined that evidence at the scene of the crime negated the possibility that he had been harmed by a third party. The judge said it was incontrovertible that no one had helped Zygier commit suicide and that he did so of his own free will. "While the deceased was found hanging in the shower room of the cell, this does not rule out the theoretical possibility that another person might have taken an active part in bringing about his death in this way."
"The evidence found at the scene, the findings of the toxicological exam and examination of imprisonment conditions, are all factors that negated the possibility that another person was involved in the deceased's death." Zygier's wife agreed to have an autopsy performed on her husband's body after his death, as part of the investigation by the Unit of International Crime Investigations.
Attorneys Roi Belchar, Boaz Ben-Zur and Moshe Mazor, who represented Zygier, responded to the report saying, "There is no doubt in our minds that in light of the judge's clear decision, as well as additional findings that will come to light at the end of the investigation, the attorney-general and state attorney will use all means necessary to ensure that this tragedy does not repeat itself."
Israel Prison Service Commissioner Lt. Gen. Aharon Franko, on Tuesday addressed the report in a conversation with commanders in the prison service. He said that "the service has managed to reduce suicides. In 2011 four prisoners committed suicide and in 2012 it was only three, unlike in previous years when the number of suicides was 12 and higher."
Regarding Zygier's specific case, Franko said that the prison service, as an organization, is learning and drawing system-wide lessons and addressing omissions.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office issued an unusual statement on Tuesday regarding the Zygier case.
"Contrary to what has been widely reported, Zygier was not in contact with Australian security services or organizations," the Prime Minister's Office, which oversees the Mossad, said in a statement.
"The State of Israel and all its organizations has excellent relations and complete coordination with Australia and its security organizations and there is total transparency in dealing with subjects that come up," reads the statement.
Meanwhile, Germany's Der Spiegel reported Tuesday that Ben Zygier worked for a front company that operated in Milan, and the nature of his work gave him access to secret military and security facilities.
"The company is reported to have vouched as Zygier's employer when he applied for a work visa at the Italian consulate in Melbourne in 2005. That, at least, is what Australian intelligence agents claim," the report said.
Two other Australian Israelis worked alongside him in the company, Paul Y. and David Z.
In his youth Zygier got involved with the "Community Security Group" in Melbourne, a kind of Jewish citizens' defense league. "These groups often have links to Mossad and are instructed by agents," the report said. But according to Reuters, the Jewish community defence group in Melbourne says "Ben Zygier was never a member of the Community Security Group" as claimed in the Spiegel news report.
According to the article, his two friends were recruited in this way as well. After the three had made aliyah, they visited Australia and changed their names. Zygier changed his name to Benjamin Burrows and Benjamin Allen. The two other agents, Paul Y and David Z, changed their names as well.
In 2009, Australian intelligence took an interest in the three men. Suspicions arose when they noticed that Zygier, who had asked to change his name, visited Iran, and that his two colleagues spent a lot of time in Syria, Iran, Egypt and Dubai. It also turned out that during his time in Tehran in 2004, David Z. asked for help from the Australian Consulate in the city.
The suspicions against Zygier also increased because in 2009, when he was living in Melbourne, Zygier had a tendency to befriend Saudi and Iranian students at Monash University where he was studying. According to reports, Australian intelligence already planned to arrest Zygier, but Israel beat them to it.
The British MI6 had also set its sights on David Z. after he submitted a request for a British passport, according to the report.
Meanwhile, after several days of silence the Australian Jewish community on Tuesday officially welcomed the investigations and publication of reports into Zygier's death. On Tuesday it was reported in Australia that the government in Canberra had not asked Israel for photographs of Zygier's last moments in his cell.