Australia’s attorney general said Canberra should not launch an inquiry into the country’s spy agencies’ involvement in the Ben Zygier affair Monday.
Mark Dreyfus said a probe requested by Foreign Minister Bob Carr into the case should steer clear of the Attorney General’s office and the country’s intelligence community, The Australian reported.
“I haven’t seen any need either for such a review to take place within the Attorney-General’s department,” Dreyfus said.
Last week, Carr said a division in his ministry would look into the case of Zygier, a Melbourne-born Mossad agent who killed himself while in Israeli jail in 2010. Israel has kept much of the case under wraps, though Sunday night a Knesset intelligence subcommittee said it would launch an independent inquest into the affair.
The Justice Ministry in Jerusalem also said it is considering releasing its dossier on a probe into Zygier’s death, which occurred despite the 34-year-old being held in a high-security cell under constant surveillance in Ramle’s Ayalon prison. An Israeli judge recently ruled the death was a suicide.
Amid a flurry of conflicting reports, it is still not clear precisely what Zygier was accused of doing or why he was put in jail. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the overexposure of Israel’s intelligence agencies could harm the nation’s security.
Carr’s inquiry will look into whether Canberra’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acted properly when dealing with Zygier.
Carr initially said last week that DFAT had been unaware that the prisoner, who also used the names Ben Allen and Ben Alon, had been in Israeli custody until his family asked for his body to be repatriated.
But Carr corrected the record and ordered the investigation on Wednesday after discovering that Australian intelligence officers had alerted some department officials 10 months earlier that the Australia-born Israel resident had been arrested on serious national security charges. Australian media have speculated that Zygier used his Australian passport, under various names, to spy for Israel.
There have also been reports that Australia’s intelligence community was tracking Zygier. The country’s Fairfax Media reported last week that Zygier had been jailed after being about to divulge secrets about the Mossad to Aussie authorities or the media.
Australia’s security agencies were “deeply involved” in watching Zygier, an Israeli official told the Australian.
On Sunday, Carr asked for Israeli cooperation into the probe.
“We want to give them an opportunity to submit to us an explanation of how this tragic death came about,” Carr told reporters in Canberra.
On Monday, Israeli MK Nachman Shai (Labor) called on the State Comptroller to probe the affair.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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