Lawyer to 'Post:' Zygier didn't want plea bargain

Alleged spy linked to everything from Mabhouh killing to straw companies selling faulty equipment to Iran.

Ben Zygier at his wedding 370 (photo credit: ABC Screenshot)
Ben Zygier at his wedding 370
(photo credit: ABC Screenshot)
Leading criminal attorney and human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman said on Thursday that “Prisoner X,” who apparently committed suicide in an Israeli jail in 2010, had told him that he didn’t want to accept a plea bargain, saying he wanted to fight to clear his name.
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Feldman, who visited the prisoner the day before he died, also told The Jerusalem Post that he had identified himself as Melbourne-native Ben Zygier, something that Israel has yet to confirm.
Feldman said Zygier had not wanted to deal with the repercussions of a guilty plea.
He had said specifically that it would be an admission to his family and loved ones that he was guilty of what he was accused of. He sought to clear his name, and appeared to be someone who wasn’t looking to give up, Feldman said.
While he said he was not at liberty to say what the state’s indictment against Zygier contained, Feldman said Zygier could “absolutely” have had a chance to see the light of day again.
“There’s no death penalty in Israel,” Feldman said. “He could have made it out some day.”
Feldman said that security officials had approved a request he had made to see the evidence in the case against Zygier, but the next day he died and Feldman did not have a chance to see the evidence.
He also said that by no means did Zygier seem to be someone ready to kill himself.
“He looked about as calm as someone can look in a situation like this, but he was clear-eyed and looked like he wanted to carry on,” Feldman said.
“My impression was that he was someone who was thinking about the future, about the decision he needed to make. I did not meet someone who was depressed, rather someone who was anxious, but whose anxiety was natural for someone in his circumstances.”
Channel 2 reported that Zygier committed suicide in the bathroom of his cell, where there were no surveillance cameras.
The lack of any concrete information emerging from Israel about Zygier led to a swirl of reports abroad on Thursday regarding the reasons for his mysterious arrest and death.
The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, quoting Western sources, claimed that Zygier was part of the Israeli team that allegedly assassinated Hamas senior commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
According to the Kuwaiti report, Zygier contacted the Dubai government after the killing of Mabhouh, who was found dead in his hotel room in January 2010, and offered information on the assassination operation in return for protection from Dubai.
Al-Jarida said that Israeli forces subsequently kidnapped Zygier and imprisoned him.
Ynet, meanwhile, cited an interview with Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan on the Arabian Business website, in which he denied these claims.
Australian newspaper The Age also linked Zygier’s incarceration in Israel to the Mabhouh assassination, but from another angle. According to the newspaper, Zygier may have been about to disclose information about Mossad operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media before he was arrested.
The paper cited an Australian security official “with knowledge of the case,” saying that “[Zygier] may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance.”
Although both Australian officials and Zygier’s family were aware of his incarceration, the paper quoted sources in Canberra saying, “The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) was never informed of the precise nature of the espionage allegations against Zygier.” The paper said, however, that “it is understood that the former Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian intelligence.”
According to the report, Israeli intelligence officials passed on information to the ASIO about Zygier’s arrest eight days after Dubai accused Israeli agents of using fraudulent foreign passports, including Australian ones, to kill Mabhouh.
The Guardian, meanwhile, ran a story about how Australian journalist Jason Katsoukis contacted Zygier in 2009 in Jerusalem and confronted him about espionage allegations, following a tip from someone in the Australian intelligence community.
The source, according to the Guardian, named three Australians – including Zygier – with dual Israeli- Australian citizenship who he said were working for a Mossad-established front company in Europe selling electronic equipment to Iran.
Katsoukis told Channel 2 that he was told that the dual citizens had over the past decade traveled to Australia and, taking advantage of a loophole there that allows Australians to change their names once every 12 months, took out new passports.
The reporter said he believed Zygier traveled to Iran on more than one occasion, and possibly traveled to Lebanon and Syria as well. There have been numerous reports over the years of fictitious companies set up abroad selling faulty equipment to the Iranians for their nuclear program.
The Zygier Affair has already caused Israel significant national security damage, a senior legal official told Channel 2 on Thursday, saying that both senior legal and defense officials were astounded by what they saw each day when they turned on the television news.
“There are no anonymous prisoners,” the official said during an off-the-record briefing. He said that over a period of decades there had only been isolated cases of prisoners being held under fictitious names.
Channel 2 quoted the official as saying that the decision to hold a prisoner under an assumed name stemmed from security considerations, as well as concern for the security of the prisoner and his family. The senior justice official said that in this case the prisoner agreed to be held under another name. He said that he received family visitations, and was granted due process under the law.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told an Australian Senate hearing on Wednesday that the Australian government was informed in February 2010 of the arrest “in relation to serious offenses under Israeli national security legislation.”
Carr said the Australian government at the time sought “specific assurances” that Zygier’s legal rights would be respected and that “the Israeli government responded that the individual would be treated in accordance with his lawful rights as an Israeli citizen.The government relied on these assurances.”
One Israeli official said that with Australia currently in the midst of an election campaign, this issue was being used by the various political sides as an opportunity to show who cared more for Australians residing abroad.
An example of this could be seen in an exchange in the Australian Senate when Greens Sen. Christine Milne asked a government official why Zygier did not receive consular assistance from Australian officials in Tel Aviv.
“Why did the Australian government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to the spooks [Australian intelligence]? Why?” she asked.
Carr also told officials at the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Legislation Committee that on December 16, 2010, Canberra was informed of Zygier’s death the previous day, the day he died, and that Australian authorities then notified his family.