The Australian journalist who first investigated allegations that Ben Zygier, who is believed to be Israel’s mysterious “Prisoner X', was a Mossad agent, said on Wednesday that Zygier had been working for a front company established by the Mossad.
The journalist, Jason Katsoukis, told the British Guardian that in 2009, while living in Jerusalem and filing stories to the Australian Fairfax group, he was contacted by an anonymous source with connections to the intelligence world.
The source named three Australians with joint Israeli citizenship whom, he said, were working for a front company set up by Mossad in Europe selling electronic equipment to Iran and elsewhere.
"I was tipped off in October 2009," Katsoukis told the Guardian on Wednesday, recalling the events that would lead to his calling Zygier at his home in Jerusalem and accusing him of being an Israeli spy.
"The story was that Mossad was recruiting Australians to spy for them using a front company in Europe. It all seemed too good to be true,” he said.
"But what I was told seemed to check out. The company did exist. I also managed to establish that Zygier and another of the individuals had worked for it. I wasn't able to confirm the third name.
"I was told too that the Australian authorities were closing in on Zygier and that he might even be arrested,” said Katsoukis.
"There was other stuff about Zygier. In Australia you can change your name once a year. He'd done it four times I think, but they were beginning to get suspicious. I also found out that he had applied for a work visa for Italy in Melbourne."
The repeated changes of name would have allowed Zygier to create new identities and multiple passports, he noted.
Katsoukis told the Guardian that the 2010 assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which was widely blamed on the Mossad (though Israel never confirmed the allegations), brought him to contact Zygier directly.
Reports that the team who killed Mabhouh had been supplied with false passports from a number of countries seemed to confirm the very practice Katsoukis was investigating.
"The feeling was that we should go to Zygier and put the story to him. It wasn't difficult to find him. He'd was back in Jerusalem so I called him at home,” said Katsoukis, who added that Zygier cursed him upon receiving the call “but what was interesting was that he did not hang up. He did soundly genuinely shocked. But he listened to what I had to say.
"I still wonder why he didn't hang up. He denied everything however. He said he hadn't visited the countries it had been claimed he had. I tried calling again but in the end he told me to buzz off," recalled Katsoukis.
On Wednesday night, an Israeli court partially lifted the gag order on the “Prisoner X” affair. The court ruled that media outlets may reveal that there was indeed an Israeli citizen, who held foreign citizenship as well, who was held in an Israeli prison under a false name.
The prisoner was given a false name for security reasons.
While the prisoner was given a false identity while in jail, his real family had been informed of his whereabouts. He also had lawyers – attorneys Roi Belhar and Boaz Ben-Tzur – who were aware of his situation.
The prisoner’s name or false name were not revealed in Israeli media reports, and Zygier’s name has only appeared in foreign media reports.
An Australian newspaper revealed on Wednesday that Zygier was under investigation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).
The gag order on the Prisoner X affair was removed in Israel after three Knesset Members exposed the affair in the Knesset plenum, thus using their parliamentary immunity to circumvent the gag order.
The three - MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) and MK Ahmed Tibi (Raam-Taal) - grilled outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman over the rumored suicide on Tuesday.