Tip-off for journalist Jason Katsoukis led to espionage trail of Australian-Israeli spies, false passports and Zygier interview
The tombstone of Ben Zygier at the Chevra Kadisha Jewish cemetery, Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Julian Smith/EPA
For Jason Katsoukis, the Australian journalist who first investigated allegations that Ben Zygier was a Mossad agent, the claims initially sounded “outlandish”.
In 2009, while living in Jerusalem and filing stories to the Australian Fairfax group, Katsoukis was contacted by an anonymous source with connections to the intelligence world.
The story that the source told over a series of conversations was indeed extraordinary.
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.
“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.
“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.
While Katsoukis was working on the story – still uncertain if it stacked up – something happened that encouraged both his editors and Katsoukis himself to bring forward their contact with Zygier.
In January 2010, a Mossad hit squad murdered the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai.
It emerged that the team had been supplied with false passports from a number of countries including Germany, Ireland and the UK, apparently confirming 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.
“When I spoke to him he was incredulous at first and said fuck off – 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.
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 13 February 2013 18.35 GMT
Find this story at 13 February 2013
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