Prison staff may pay the price for Zygier suicide

Prison staff may pay the price for Zygier suicide

Two officers and two guards could face criminal charges for negligence following release of investigation report

The Ayalon Prison complex in Ramle, central Israel, Thursday, February 14. Sharaf served 9 years (1991-2000) in the Ayalon Prison prior to his furlough. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
The Ayalon Prison complex in Ramle, central Israel, Thursday, February 14. Sharaf served 9 years (1991-2000) in the Ayalon Prison prior to his furlough. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

Four Prison Services employees are expected to face disciplinary action and perhaps even criminal prosecution for their failure to prevent the 2010 suicide of Australian-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier in his cell at the Ayalon prison.

According to a report in Maariv Wednesday, the four include a mid-ranking officer, an intelligence officer and two prison guards. The decision whether to indict them for criminal negligence is expected in the coming days.

A senior Prison Services official said Tuesday, following the release of details from a court investigation of Zygier’s death, that while his organization doesn’t absolve itself from responsibility for the incident, there were other factors involved.

“We hope the prosecution realizes that it is impossible to lay the entire blame, particularly not in the legal sense, on four people,” said the official.

In her conclusions to the investigation published on Tuesday, Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai wrote that she “found evidence allegedly suggesting the culpability of officials in the Israel Prison Service.” She added that the responsibilities of the guards are “many and severe,” and that in this particular case they were particularly serious given the “cloak of secrecy, compartmentalization, and different gaps in the information.”

Special instructions, she added, had been provided to prevent suicide attempts, and those responsible for Zygier’s supervision were aware of the regulations. However, the instructions were not followed by the prison guards, she wrote, and Zygier used the “window of opportunity” to take his life.

The judge noted that in her opinion there is room to file criminal charges against those suspected of negligence, but that she would leave the decision to the state prosecution.

The report determined that Zygier hung himself with a wet sheet in the shower of his cell’s bathroom at 8:19 p.m. on December 15, 2010.

One clause of the report stated that the conclusion of suicide does not entirely exclude the investigation of other causes of death, including “whether death was caused by a criminal act” and whether “in future it might be possible to identify suspects.”

Zygier, a Melbourne native and Mossad operative, was secretly arrested and jailed in early 2010. He was imprisoned by Israeli authorities after he reportedly revealed information to officers from Australia’s ASIO internal intelligence agency, including on a major upcoming operation in Italy, according to Australia’s ABC television. However, Israel said later Tuesday that he had not revealed any such information to Australian authorities.

Analysts on Israel’s Channel 2 speculated that the PMO’s announcement was worded to suggest that Zygier had indeed leaked information — just not to the Australian authorities. It was designed to dispel the notion that he was some kind of double agent, but did not exclude the notion that he had divulged information to the media, for instance, as has been claimed in some reports.

Former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called on Tuesday for a thorough investigation into the affair by Joseph Shapira, his successor as comptroller. Lindenstrauss said that the comptroller’s office has “the proper tools and security” to fulfill the “need for public inspection” into the affair, according to Army Radio.

On Monday, Shapiro said he would “wait a few days” before deciding whether to launch an investigation.

Australia has launched its own probe into the affair and has requested Israeli cooperation. In addition, a Knesset intelligence subcommittee said it would look into the affair.

Asher Zeiger contributed to this report

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