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Mystery Australian's next-of-kin seek compensation from Israel
Published Friday 15/02/2013 (updated) 16/02/2013 17:41
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The headstone of the grave of Ben Zygier is pictured at a Jewish
cemetery in Melbourne, Feb. 14. (Reuters/Brandon Malone)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Relatives of an Australian immigrant to Israel who killed himself in 2010 while secretly jailed on charges of violating national security are seeking compensation from the state, a source briefed on the affair said Friday.

The source said the talks were preliminary as Israel had not formally faulted its prison authorities in the death of Ben Zygier, which was made public this week by an Australian television expose that described him as a Mossad officer.

A Mossad link has been neither denied nor confirmed by Australia or Israel, where military censorship and court gag orders kept many details of the case from the media.

The silence has fanned media speculation that Israel believes the 34-year-old Melbourne Jew had betrayed its intelligence agency's high-stakes work abroad.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which oversees the Mossad, did not respond for a request for comment on the matter.

Israel's Haaretz daily said the state agreed to pay "several million shekels" in damages to Zygier's family around six weeks ago, when an internal inquest declared his death a suicide.

The inquest result was disclosed by the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, in Israel's only official statement on the case. The statement, which did not identify Zygier by name, said a judge had also ordered an "evaluation regarding issues of negligence".

A source briefed on the affair denied there had been any agreement to compensate Zygier's family for the failure of staff to prevent his suicide at Ayalon prison, where he had been held for months, under alias and in isolation from other inmates.

"There's no decision on negligence yet, so there's no compensation in any form in that regard," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "What there have been are initial inquiries by the deceased's representatives about compensation."

'Grave crime'

A Zygier family lawyer, Moshe Mazur, declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the case.

So did Israel's Prisons Service. But one of its officials voiced skepticism about the idea of compensation being agreed with Zygier's family, saying such payouts in negligence cases could take "years" to negotiate.

Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli lawyer with whom Zygier briefly consulted while in prison, said he knew of no compensation deal.

Were the state to pay damages for negligence, he said, it would not reflect any official position on Zygier's guilt or innocence: "Even convicted criminals are eligible for compensation if their jailers fail to provide for their well-being as required."

Feldman said Zygier died after being indicted for "grave crimes" but before being tried. Zygier had denied the charges against him but was considering a plea bargain, Feldman said.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Thursday that Canberra was told Zygier had been held over "serious offenses under Israeli national security legislation".

Feldman told Israeli radio on Thursday that a "Mossad liaison" contact had arranged his meeting with Zygier.

The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, said in a report citing Australian security officials that Zygier may have been in contact with the intelligence services of his native country and "been about to blow the whistle" about Mossad operations - including their possible fraudulent use of Australian passports.

A veteran intelligence officer who declined to be identified by name or nationality said there was a possibility that, had Zygier indeed served Mossad, the agency would have paid death benefits to his family -- regardless of the charges against him.

"If he was never tried, then he was never found guilty, and he may be considered to have died while in active service," the intelligence veteran said. "That would make his next-of-kin eligible to the various relevant payouts."

The Hebrew word for compensation, "pitzuim", can also be used for benefits paid without claims of misconduct.
1 ) Colin Wright / USA
15/02/2013 23:41
I thought they'd already been paid, and that's why they were keeping silent. If I wasn't eventually going to have to help make the payment, I'd find all this comic.

2 ) dan williams / australia
16/02/2013 01:34
great article

3 ) Lilith / The World
16/02/2013 03:21
My G-d the way you have twisted and contorted this article is beyond belief

4 ) ian / australia
16/02/2013 22:31
The family in Melbourne is another piece in the puzzle and their reaction seems a bit strange. They knew Ben was dead three years ago, requested the body returned, buried him in Melbourne with Orthodox requirements and seemingly agreed to kept quiet about the whole thing. What they were told (or paid) in 2010 and whether they accepted the suicide explanation (or were even given it) they alone know, but it looks like they were willing to take one for the team. Their loyalties appear to be

5 ) ian / australia
16/02/2013 22:34
(contd.) to Israel and to Judaism, above Australia, justice or their son. They refused to "rock the boat" three years ago and refuse still, which I suppose is a religious view that the House of Israel matters more than individual Jews (though it's VERY un-Australian to think that way).

6 ) Lilith / The World
16/02/2013 23:01
Latest information is that the Australian Gov., was well aware of the case. There is no legal reason for compensating his family. Israel is reported to be looking into filing negligence charges against those who failed to prevent Zygier’s suicide. Dan what is good about an article that twists the truth and is full of innuendos? But then, what does one expect of The AGE ?

7 ) ian / australia
16/02/2013 23:03
#3 "My G-d the way you have twisted and contorted this article is beyond belief" I assume you're responding to #1 Lilith, though I can't see how CW has "twisted and contorted" anything. The article is just a whole lot of legal argument about compensation and Ben Zygier's "status" when he died: traitor deserving nothing; Mossad agent charged (with "grave crimes") but not tried or found guilty so with the presumption of innocence who "died while in active service"; victim of Israeli negligence

8 ) ian / australia
16/02/2013 23:04
(contd.) deserving damages ("which do not reflect any official position on Zygier's guilt or innocence") etc., etc. Oy veh. Lawyers!

9 ) Colin Wright / USA
17/02/2013 11:54
To Lileth #6 'Israel is reported to be looking into filing negligence charges against those who failed to prevent Zygier’s suicide.' Here's betting they don't 'find' anyone. Still, the 'investigation' should be worth a laugh.

10 ) Lilith / The World
17/02/2013 13:02
Read Andrew Bolt's blog on this. Excellent. The Australian Government knew about it years ago and appears to have been working with Israeli Intelligence on it. Whatever IT is?

11 ) gabi / australia
18/02/2013 01:21
Hey ian/australia - fair go on lawyers. some of my best friends . . . I agree with your comments about the family here in Australia - quite odd behaviour. But X had family in Israel too - wife and a couple of kids. I hope they succeed in getting heaps from the Israeli govt. I have little compassion for spies of any sort, whether ours or theirs, but his kids had no part in his choice of occupation.

12 ) Maureen / Australia
18/02/2013 17:57
# Lilith. Andrew Bolt - no wonder you sound so naive! Keep reading Maan News, Lilith... Andrew Bolt! LOL!
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