SYDNEY // Australia's foreign minister today confirmed for the first time that a dual Australian-Israeli citizen who died in a maximum-security Israeli prison had been working for Israel's government, and he raised the possibility of a diplomatic spat if the man's Australian passport was used for espionage.
Ben Zygier died in an apparent suicide in his prison cell in December 2010, and reports have said he had worked for the Mossad spy agency.
Israel's government has refused to release details about the case even after a gag order was partially lifted that barred local media from reporting on it at all. Australia's government has said only that Zygier, an Australian who immigrated to Israel, had been charged with unspecified security offences.
Bob Carr, the foreign minister, said that Zygier was working for Israel's government, though he would not confirm or deny reports he had worked for Mossad and said that there was no evidence Zygier was involved in a suspected hit squad that murdered a Hamas official in Dubai in 2010.
"The advice that I got is that nothing in the Zygier file, nothing in the Zygier record, has him working in Dubai," Mr Carr said.
Last month, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, denied reports in Kuwaiti media that Zygler had offered police in the emirate details related to the killing of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in a hotel room in January 2010.
Mr Carr warned that the case raises serious questions about the use of Australian passports by dual nationals working for foreign governments, saying that if it is confirmed Israel used Zygier's passport for intelligence-gathering purposes, Australia would register "the strongest protest".
After the Dubai killing, an Australian investigation concluded that Israel had counterfeited four Australian passports used by Mossad. Australia retaliated by expelling an Israeli diplomat.
"Certainly if Australian passports were misused here, that's something we are forced to take very seriously," Mr Carr said. "No country can allow the integrity of its passport system to be compromised. We can't say whether it happened with Mr Zygier's several passports. I hope the inquiry that takes place ... in Israel can clarify this position."
The mysterious case has strained relations between Australia and Israel, a close ally, which suppressed all details of Zygier's imprisonment and death until Australia's national broadcaster broke the story last month.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Zygier, who had previously only been known as "Prisoner X" was a Mossad agent who hanged himself in what was supposed to be a suicide-proof solitary confinement cell.
Mr Carr ordered a review into how his foreign affairs department handled the case and released a report today criticising a lack of communication between Australian officials.
The review also found that Zygier was granted regular access to a lawyer and was visited by family members more than 50 times during his imprisonment.
Mr Carr said Australia has asked Israel to provide it with information on the charges Zygier was facing, but Israel has refused because of a gag order.