Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied ties with a former minister accused of spying for Iran, amid reports said he served as a doctor to Israeli officials at the embassy in Nigeria.
The ministry said the embassy in Abuja had no connection to Gonen Segev, Hadashot TV news reported.
The Shin Bet security service revealed Monday that Segev was charged with spying for Tehran, accusing him of giving Israel’s arch-foe sensitive information about locations of security centers and the country’s energy industry.
He was allegedly an active agent at the time of his arrest, and had twice been to Iran to meet his handlers.
Segev, a former doctor who served time in an Israeli prison for drug smuggling, moved to Nigeria upon his release. There, he was said to have worked as a doctor for staffers at the Israeli embassy in Abuja and for the local Jewish community, according to Hebrew media reports, despite the revocation of his Israeli medical license.
The reports said Segev was the go-to doctor for embassy staff in Nigeria and maintained contacts with Israeli officials while he was allegedly spying for Iran.
In one case, Segev was reportedly thanked by the Foreign Ministry’s security division for saving the life of an Israeli security guard.
“Your sensitivity and efficient handling made the difference, and helped the patient, his family and his supervisors in Israel to cope with the complex situation we all encountered,” according to a copy of the English letter published by Walla news.
“We, who understand the complexity of living in Africa and know that a medical problem can turn into an emergency in a heartbeat, are deeply grateful for your support and professional care during those long two-days when our security attache medical condition was unclear and he required full time supervision. Not many people would have taken this kind of responsibility on their shoulders,” the ministry added in the letter, which was dated December 24, 2014.
Despite his reported medical work with Israeli diplomats and expats in Nigeria, the Israeli Health Ministry in 2016 rejected a request from Segev to reinstate his medical license in order for him to return to the country. That same year, he told Hadashot news (then Channel 2) that he would remain in Nigeria until he could return to Israel with his “head held high.”
While in Nigeria, Segev married a diplomat at the German embassy in Abuja and likely due to their marriage was able to obtain a foreign diplomatic passport, Hadashot news reported.
According to the network, Segev was a regular at events for Nigeria’s close-knit Jewish community at the Israeli embassy, although he was not invited in an official capacity.
Members of the Jewish community said they were shocked to learn about Segev’s alleged Iranian ties.
“Like everyone else more or less I heard about these very serious things yesterday evening,” Rabbi Yisrael Ozen, a Chabad emissary in Nigeria, told Hadashot news.
“We need to wait until the end of the investigation in order to know what is happening with him. I only have good things to say about him. We really didn’t expect this, we were surprised,” the rabbi added.
According to the Shin Bet, Segev, whose former ministerial portfolio included energy and infrastructure, has knowingly been in contact with Iranian intelligence officials since 2012, making first contact with them at Iran’s embassy in Nigeria.
“Segev gave his operators information about [Israel’s] energy sector, about security locations in Israel, and about buildings and officials in diplomatic and security bodies, and more,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
“Segev even visited Iran twice to meet with his handlers in full knowledge that they were Iranian intelligence operatives,” the security service said.
The Shin Bet said Segev met with his Iranian handlers in hotels and safe houses around the world and used a special encrypted device to send them messages in secret.
He was also accused of making contact with Israeli figures in security, defense and diplomacy in order to mine them for information to send to Iran.
According to the Shin Bet, he also tried to make direct connections between his Israeli contacts and Iranian handlers, presenting the spies as businesspeople.
In mid-May, Segev traveled from Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea where he was arrested by local police and sent back to Israel, the intelligence agency said.
On Friday, he was indicted in a Jerusalem court on charges of assisting the enemy in wartime, spying, and a number of other related crimes, but the case remained under a gag order until Monday. Some details of the case remain sealed.
Segev’s lawyers said in a statement to the press that the full charge sheet painted a “different picture” from that which can be seen from only the parts cleared for publication. According to an unconfirmed Hadashot TV report Monday, his defense claim is that he was seeking to mislead the Iranians and hoped to return home to Israel a hero.
Segev, who reportedly was being held in a Shin Bet facility, was moved Tuesday to Gilboa Prison in northern Israel.
His next Jerusalem court hearing is set to take place in three weeks’ time.