TRIPOLI: Moammar Gadhafi’s last premier, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who was controversially extradited from Tunisia to Libya to face justice, said Tuesday that he was innocent.
“I am not guilty, not guilty, not guilty,” Mahmoudi told journalists during a visit to his prison organized by authorities in an apparent bid to quash rumors that he had been tortured on his arrival in Libya.
“I am ready to be tried by the Libyan people. I am sure of myself and of my innocence,” a tired but healthy looking Mahmoudi said.
Mahmoudi, speaking calmly but in a tone tinged with sadness, said that he was being questioned by judicial authorities almost daily and that his family would soon appoint a lawyer to defend him.
He denied reports that he was tortured upon his arrival in Libya.
“I am in front of you and in good health. There was no assault against me. Reports that I was tortured, all of that was lies,” he said, speculating that they reflected a “political agenda.”
Mahmoudi fled to neighboring Tunisia in September shortly after rebel fighters seized the capital Tripoli, effectively putting an end to more than four decades of iron-fisted Gadhafi rule.
From March 5, 2006 through the war of 2011, Mahmoudi served the former regime as the secretary of the General People’s Committee, the equivalent of prime minister.
Libyan journalists grilled the former premier on why he had stood with Gadhafi until the end of his regime. Mahmoudi said that he feared that foreign intervention in Libya would pave the way for a new era of colonialism.
“My defense will be in front of the court,” Mahmoudi said.
Libya wants to try Mahmoudi, who is said to have been born in 1945, for inciting rape, killing and kidnapping during last year’s conflict, among other charges, according to the prosecutor general’s office.
Officials says Mahmoudi will probably be questioned for a period of 45 days before his case is put in front of a civil court, as with Abuzeid Dorda, an ex-official already in the dock.
Mahmoudi’s extradition on June 24 represented a major diplomatic victory for Libya’s interim government which has been keen to prove to the world that it can conduct fair trials for ex-regime figures.
He is also the first senior official to be sent back for trial in Libya and his extradition could set a precedent for other countries who have sheltered members of Gadhafi’s regime.
Mahmoudi had appealed his extradition request on the grounds that he had applied for refugee status and could face execution if he is sent back to Libya.
In May, he staged a hunger strike in protest over the extradition deal brokered between Tunisia and Libya, fearing for his life as a primary holder of Libyan state secrets since Gadhafi’s death on Oct. 20.
The extradition decree was not officially signed by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, causing a political crisis in Tunis.