A tussle has broken out over what kind of war crimes trial awaits slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son - a man who could spill some embarrassing secrets about the ties between top Western leaders and his father’s fallen regime.
Saif al Islam, Gaddafi’s second son and heir apparent, was captured on Saturday with four aides while reportedly trying to flee to neighbouring Niger.
After several days of a tussle over the venue of the trial, it seems clear now that Saif, 39, will be tried in Libya rather than at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But on Wednesday, The Times newspaper reported his captors have chopped off the fingers of his right hand and carried photographs of his heavily bandaged hand, casting doubts over whether he will receive a fair trial in Libya.
The reasons why the ICC agreed to a Libyan trial are unclear.
Luis Morteno-Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, accepted a Libyan trial after talks with authorities in the capital Tripoli. The ICC official explained, “In May, we requested a warrant because Libyans couldn’t do justice in Libya. Now, as soon as Libyans decide to do justice they could do justice and we’ll help them to do it.”
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron told HT Wednesday that the British leader has been assured by Libya’s new interim government that Saif would be tried in accordance with “international standards.” Saif has strong connections with Britain.
He has a Phd from the prestigious London School of Economics, which controversially accepted a £1.5mn donation from a foundation linked to Saif. He is also said to hold secrets about the precise circumstances in which his father’s hated regime was allowed to re-establish ties with the West in spite of its known terrorist links.
A public trial could prove embarrassing to a host of Western leaders who have had dealings with Saif, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, who is said to have been a close friend.
Gaddafi’s son was instrumental in the deal to free Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan spy who was in a Scottish jail for his involvement in the terrorist bombing that was responsible for the 1989 Pan Am plane crash over Lockerbie. Others who have reasons to fear a public trial reportedly include reputed international bankers, businessmen and politicians.