JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will not press charges over the prison suicide of a disgraced Mossad spy from Australia, despite a series of missteps by jail officials on the day of his death in 2010, the Justice Ministry said on Thursday.
Ben Zygier, 34, received “distressing news” from his wife just hours before hanging himself, but the jailer responsible for watching surveillance video from the isolation cell was away from the screen and missed the moments leading up to his death.
The case was kept secret until February, when an Australian television expose uncovered it, sparking frenzied media debate about Zygier’s intelligence role and the nature of his alleged crime.
A report into his death published on Thursday suggested that the prison service had not complied with special instructions on supervising Zygier, who was not considered a top suicide risk despite admitting previous urges to kill himself.
However, the Attorney General said “the evidence is not sufficient in proving ... that the Prison Authority, or anyone else, negligently caused the deceased’s death”.
Without explicitly naming Zygier, Israel confirmed in 2010 that it had a dual nationality citizen in custody to prevent serious harm to national interests. The charges against him still remain top secret and under a gag order.
Australia’s Fairfax newspapers and German Der Spiegel said last month that Zygier was a spy for the Mossad intelligence agency and had unwittingly given away secret information about Lebanese informants, who were later arrested and jailed in Lebanon.
“AGITATED AND UPSET”
According to Thursday’s report, Zygier was held in isolation in a cell that was under 24-hour video surveillance. He had regular sessions with social workers and psychiatrists, and was allowed family visits at the jail in Ayalon, central Israel.
On the day of his death, the report said Zygier had seen his pregnant wife and daughter, and received undisclosed news that left him “crying, agitated and upset”.
The prison social worker testified that Zygier often displayed such emotions after family visits. When she asked after Zygier’s mood later on the same day, she was told that he was relaxed and watching television.
About two hours later, Zygier went into his bathroom, looped a wet sheet around his neck, tied it to the bars of a window and hanged himself. The guard monitoring the video had been asked to help out the understaffed team in the prison’s central command center, which was not hooked up to the camera in question.
Lior Brand, a friend of Zygier‘s, told Reuters in March that he cared deeply about Israel and wanted to do his bit for its security, but lacked the required emotional resilience.
“There was a background security check, his friends told them that he was unfit ... they should not have recruited him,” Brand said, without naming the agency that took Zygier in. “What hurts is that the whole thing could have been avoided.”
Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Trevelyan