Ben Zygier, the alleged former Mossad agent who committed suicide in an Israeli prison cell more than three years ago, allegedly passed classified information about Israeli espionage activities to an Iranian businessman. The information the Australian- born Zygier, known as “Prisoner X,” supposedly shared included details on operations that he was involved in.
These claims were made in the book Prisoner X by journalist Rafael Epstein that was recently published in Australia.
Epstein was Zygier’s counselor at the Australian Zionist youth groups Netzer and Hashomer Hatzair and together they participated in a workshop for Diaspora youth leaders in Jerusalem.
In an interview with Sof Hashavua (The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication), Epstein said the research for his book completely contradicted the theories of other Australian and German journalists, as well as Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman’s theory, that Zygier was suspected of treason for visiting Lebanon and for contacting a Hezbollah agent in Europe.
Epstein said the Iranian businessman studied with Zygier at Melbourne’s Monash University.
“This Iranian man played a central role in Zygier’s downfall. Ben Zygier spoke too much with the wrong person at the wrong time, and the Mossad found out,” the author told Sof Hashavua.
“Zygier did not play a senior role in the Mossad Iran-related operations, but he was a partner while he was employed by a Milanese communications equipment supplier that had dealings in Africa and the Far East. In the framework of his employment he also traveled to Tehran,” Epstein said.
Epstein revealed in the interview that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) tracked Zygier for a long time, but the author was not sure if the service tipped the Mossad off about his contacts with the Iranian businessman in Australia.
When Zygier returned to Israel from his studies in Australia in January 2010, he was arrested for espionage and treason. The courts and the military censor placed a blackout on information about his arrest and imprisonment.
Only two news pieces in the Israeli media were released, in violation of the censor’s restrictions, about a secret prisoner, Prisoner X, who was being held in Ayalon Prison in Ramle.
During Zygier’s time in prison charges were laid against him and he was offered a plea deal.
The state attorney wanted him to serve 10 years in jail under the proposal. While Zygier was considering the deal, his wife and two children visited him at his cell. During this visit his wife told him that she wanted to separate from him.
Zygier, 34, became depressed, phoned his family in Australia and shortly thereafter hanged himself in the washroom of his cell.
The suicide was kept under wraps by the censor and nothing was published about it until February 2013, when Australian television exposed some details of the affair, making in Australia and in Israel.
A judge appointed to investigate the circumstances of Zygier’s death found that he took his own life, but she did not spare the prison guards who she found to be negligent in their duties.
Epstein faults the Australian government, saying it received information from Israel about Zygier’s arrest and did not act as it should have.
Jerusalem Post Annual Conference. Buy it now, Special offer. Come meet Israel's top leaders