Australian Broadcaster Says Israeli Reaction 'Confirms' Its Zygier Story

Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired a report Tuesday night, triggering worldwide news reports about Ben Zygier, formerly known as Prisoner X.

Dan Goldberg
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Dan Goldberg

Trevor Bormann was in Israel last April when a contact gave him a hot lead about an explosive story. An award-winning television journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who has been traveling to Israel for the past 20 years, Bormann began a 10-month investigation that aired Tuesday night in Australia, triggering worldwide news reports about Ben Zygier, formerly known as Prisoner X.

The team, including Bormann, executive producer Steve Taylor, producer Vivien Altman, Executive Producer Steve Taylor and editor Nick Brenner say they worked on the story for the past 10 months.

The “Foreign Correspondent” program team claimed they had “compelling evidence” to suggest that Prisoner X was Zygier, a Melbourne Jew who made aliyah, was recruited by Mossad and died in Yigal Amir’s supposedly suicide-proof cell in December 2010 from “asphyxiation by hanging,” according to documents obtained by the investigation.

Bormann said the events since Tuesday confirm ABC’s report. “There is no doubt the story has absolute verification,” he said in an interview Thursday with Haaretz.

“I am convinced,” he said. “Our premise was we believed these two people are the same. Now I am absolutely certain that Ben Zygier/Alon/Allen was Prisoner X,” he said, referring to two other names Zygier used.

Bormann said he was “absolutely surprised” by attempts by Israeli authorities to suppress the story, but also by the “zeal” with which the Israeli media pursued the partial lifting of the gag order.

“Everyone in Israel is saying to me this will change things,” Bormann said, referring to Israeli news censorship.

While filming at Zygier’s gravesite in Melbourne last December, Bormann had a chance meeting with Zygier’s parents, who are well-known in Melbourne’s Jewish community. “We had a talk and they said their grief was private and they did not want to be part of the story. [They said] there was no intrigue in Ben’s death.”

Bormann said he was aware of Jason Koutsoukis February 2010 report in Fairfax Media, which revealed that Australia’s spy agency was investigating three Australian Jews who had changed their names and moved to Israel.

“I thought, I wonder if Ben is one of these guys,” Bormann said.

But his team faced an impenetrable wall when they tried to get close to Zygier’s family and friends.

“The shutters came up everywhere,” he said. “Those people who knew him without exception wouldn’t speak.”

He added that some people contacted by the ABC team were “quite abusive.”

Producer Vivien Altman said the team ran up against a “a code of silence” among potential sources of information.

“As soon as they found out what it was about, they’d never get back to you. I just found it really odd,” she said. “People who know something, won’t talk. People who don’t, just gossip.

“It was hermetically sealed and I understood why the family, for very good reasons, wouldn’t want to talk,” Altman continued. “But I never understood why his friends never wanted to talk because they may have wanted to say something nice about him.”

While the Foreign Correspondent team believes Prisoner X was Zygier, they don’t yet have the answer to the central question: What crime is he alleged to have committed?

“I don’t really have any more of a hunch about what he did than when we started,” Altman said. “I feel very sorry for Ben but I’m sure he would’ve wanted the world to know."

Ben Zygier's grave in Melbourne.Credit: Handout
A woman with an Australian newspaper showing the front page story of Ben Zygier in this photo illustration taken in Sydney on February 14, 2013.Credit: AFP

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