Ben Zygier Photo: Supplied
Just hours before his suicide in an isolation cell in a high-security prison, dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier received a visit from his wife who delivered some “distressing news” that left him in “a state of turmoil”, a report from Israel's Justice Ministry claims.
The report does not explain the nature of the distressing news, but notes that it appeared to have a “severe impact on his state of mind".
The revelations add new detail to the hours leading up to Mr Zygier's death and shed further light on a case that Israel has been determined to keep secret.
The two reviews of Mr Zygier's case, one by a senior Israeli court officer, the other by Israel's Attorney-General's Department, were released overnight. The Attorney-General's report concluded that it would not pursue criminal charges of negligence over Mr Zygier's treatment in jail.
It was only after revelations in the Australian media – from the ABC TV and Fairfax Media – that Israel was forced to lift part of its sweeping gag order that prevented any publication of any details of the case.
Until then, the January 2010 arrest and subsequent 11-month imprisonment of Mr Zygier, who was working for the Israeli spy agency Mossad, remained a secret and little was known of the man referred to in court documents only as “Prisoner X”.
Israel has yet to confirm why Mr Zygier was arrested, why it was necessary to keep him under a false name in a high-security isolation cell in Ayalon Prison or what charges he was facing at the time of his death, and there is still “a sweeping gag order” on the matter, the State's Attorney reminded the media on Thursday.
Fairfax Media revealed last month that Mr Zygier, desperate to escape the desk job he had been relegated to by his Mossad superiors, had allegedly launched an operation of his own, unintentionally exposing two top Israeli informants who were spying on Hezbollah, who were later sentenced to 15 years in prison in Lebanon.
Lawyers for Mr Zygier said he was in plea-bargain talks at the time of his death on December 15, 2010, and was facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The reports released on Thursday – one from the State's Attorney and one from Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court President Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai – reveal previously unknown details of his wife's visit, as well as multiple assessments on his mental health.
On December 15, 2010 – the day of his death – Mr Zygier's Israeli wife and one of his two daughters entered his cell at 11.10am. By 12.05pm a prison officer reported Mr Zygier was “crying, nervous and upset”.
His mood worsened when the prison officer refused Mr Zygier's request to give his wife a note, the report found, prompting Mr Zygier to “tear up the piece of paper and express rage”.
His wife returned to the cell, and later came out crying, the report said.
Later that day, according to the report, prison guards woke Mr Zygier to take a telephone call from his lawyer.
The report concluded that prison guards did not check on him as often as they were required to that evening and that one of the cameras trained on his cell malfunctioned, the judge's report found.
Guards discovered his body in the shower at 8.19pm.
The report found the 34-year-old prisoner had been examined 14 times by three psychiatrists in the first nine months of his detention – all stated he had denied suicidal intent.
The investigative material also indicates that he saw social workers on 57 occasions without revealing any suicidal inclinations.
However, one doctor who saw Mr Zygier on November 29 noted in her report: “mental state – abnormal findings … depression, deteriorated mood. Has trouble sleeping. Wakes up early. Poor appetite. Dispirited. Tearfulness.”
A subsequent examination by a psychiatrist concluded: “denies suicidal thoughts and without evidence of psychosis or major depression.”
Even though the court found “a specific error, reflected by faulty supervision on the day of the suicide, was the result of negligence” it decided not to charge anyone from the Israeli Prison Service.
And although there was what the report describes as an “unusual event on the day of the incident” it notes that while the “content of the conversations of the deceased with his family members are known today” they were not know to prison officials at the time and could not have been used in a reassessment of his suicide risk.
The Justice Ministry concluded it was not possible to determine "with the degree of certainty required" that Prison Service personnel or others "caused the death of the deceased through negligence”.