Australian Authorities Were Investigating Ben Zygier for Espionage Months Before His Arrest in Israel

Australian intelligence officials were looking into suspicions that Zygier, known later as Prisoner X, was fraudulently using his Australian passport; upon being contacted by a reporter months before his arrest, Zygier adamantly denied the charges.

Anshel Pfeffer
Barak Ravid
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Anshel Pfeffer
Barak Ravid

Ben Zygier, the alleged Mossad agent who committed suicide in Ayalon Prison in December 2010, was under investigation by Australian intelligence months before he was arrested in Israel, media outlets in Australia and the U.K. reported on Wednesday.

According to the reports, Zygier was one of three Jewish Australians who were working for a front company set up by Mossad with the purpose of recruiting agents.

Click here to read the full text Israel released after lifting the gag order on the case

Early in 2010, months before Zygier's arrest, an Australian reporter, Jason Koutsoukis, contacted the him in Israel and spoke with him over the phone. The reporter on Wednesday told The Guardian that he was acting on a tip from an anonymous source who claimed that the Mossad was recruiting Australians to spy using a front company that appeared to sell electronic equipment to Iran and elsewhere.

"What I was told seemed to check out," Koutsoukis was quoted as saying by The Guardian. "The company did exist. I also managed to establish that Zygier and another of the individuals had worked for it. I wasn't able to confirm the third name."

Koutsoukis further said that a senior government official he was acquainted with appeared to confirm the story.

The reporter also said he received information that Zygier had returned to Australia in 2009 to earn an MBA at Monash University, and there he had been in contact with Iranian and Saudi students.

Australia's The Age newspaper said Wednesday that Zygier was being probed for fraudulent use of his Australian passport for espionage purposes. Faced with the suggestion that he was an agent for Israel and that he was under investigation, Zygier was livid.

''Who the f--- are you?" he asked Koutsoukis, then serving as the Middle East correspondent for Fairfax Media. ''What is this total bullshit you are telling me?''
Zygier expressed outrage when the reporter suggested that he had used an Australian passport to travel to Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

''I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,'' Zygier said. ''I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.''

Koutsoukis recalled that Zygier was adamant in denying the suspicions that were raised. 

"He was at first angry, then exasperated that I wouldn't accept his denials at what I was putting to him," Koutsoukis said. "He told me he was like any other Australian who had made aliyah and was trying to make a life in Israel.''

The journalist contacted Zygier as part of a report on an investigation being carried out by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) into three Jewish Australian citizens who had emigrated to Israel, and whose passports were suspected of being used for espionage. In each of the three cases, the passport-holders had returned to Australia to change their names to less-Jewish sounding ones. Zeiger changed his name three times, first to Ben Alon, then Ben Allen and then Ben Burrows.

According to the report in The Age, the ASIO investigation began in mid-2009, long before Zygier was arrested in Israel and before the assassination of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010. Dubai police claimed that a group of Mossad agents were at the hotel where al-Mabhouh was assassinated, and at least three of them were using Australian passports. Israel had to give explanations following the incident to the Australian government and promise to stop using its passports. 

Ben Zygier in IDF uniform.Credit: SMH Website
Life of Prisoner X
Ben Zygier in IDF uniform.
Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.
Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.
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Ben Zygier in IDF uniform.Credit: SMH Website
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Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.Credit: Handout
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Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.Credit: Steve Yarrow

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