JERUSALEM (AP) — An Australian-Israeli citizen who mysteriously died in prison after an apparent career in Israel's spy agency had denied the allegations against him and was considering a plea bargain just before he died, his lawyer said Thursday.
The attorney, Avigdor Feldman, told Israeli Channel 10 that he saw Ben Zygier a day before he allegedly committed suicide. Zygier was "rational," Feldman said, adding that the two discussed legal options, including a plea bargain.
Feldman said the allegations against Zygier were "serious" but would not elaborate further.
The lawyer's remarks were the latest in the saga of a man known as Prisoner X. On Wednesday, Israel acknowledged for the first time that it held a dual Israeli citizen under a false name for security reasons and that he died in prison in 2010.
The story broke earlier this week when Australian ABC reported that the prisoner, who it referred to as Ben Zygier, migrated from Australia to Israel in 2000 and worked for the Mossad spy agency. It reported that Zygier's incarceration was top secret, but did not say why he had been arrested. It said he was known by at least three different names and had visited countries hostile to Israel.
The report forced the Australian government to admit that it had known about the case all along but kept it under wraps. It also unraveled the media blackout that the Israeli government had imposed using military censorship laws.
Feldman said he met with Zygier in prison. "I met a balanced person ... He was rationally considering legal options."
"I can say that he denied the charges ... The crimes he was suspected of were serious," Feldman said but would not elaborate further. "He didn't admit to anything."
Israel, which initially refused to acknowledge the Australian report, on Wednesday night lifted a series of gag orders dating to March 2010, and said an Israeli man who held dual citizenship in an undisclosed country died in custody in 2010.
Identifying the man only as the Hebrew equivalent of John Doe, the court order said the prisoner's family was notified immediately after he was detained. It said he was jailed under a court order and that the prisoner's full rights were retained. It named three Israeli lawyers to represent him. Channel 10 did not ask Feldman, who was not among the three named attorneys, who hired him. Feldman could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press.
The court order said that after the prisoner was found dead in his cell, a judge ordered an investigation, which concluded that he committed suicide. A judge has now asked the state to check for possible negligence.
There were no details how the prisoner, under 24-hour surveillance in a maximum security facility, had committed suicide.
Channel 10 also said that in 2009, Australian intelligence officers interrogated Zygier about trips to Iran, Lebanon and Syria. The report alleged that the case was leaked to an Australian reporter who phoned Zygier and questioned him about his alleged Mossad links.
Zygier denied the links, Channel 10 said, adding that sometime after that interview, Zygier was jailed in Israel and died six months later.