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Senoussi arrest could delay Gadhafi son’s trial

Senoussi, center, in custody in Tripoli.

TRIPOLI: The trial of Moammar Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam may be delayed so as to include testimony that may be obtained from the country’s former spy chief, a government official said Thursday.

Government officials said in August that Seif al-Islam’s trial on war crimes charges – the most high-profile prosecution of a figure from his late father’s entourage to date – was due to begin in September.

But the arrest Wednesday of Abdullah Senoussi, the former spy chief known as “Gadhafi’s black box,” appears to have pushed that date back, postponing a trial that a lawyer from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already predicted is unlikely to be fair.

Senoussi was handed over to Libya by Mauritanian authorities Wednesday after being captured in March, triggering a tug of war between Libya, France and the ICC for his extradition.

“We expect the trial of Seif al-Islam to be delayed a little because Abdullah Senoussi will be able to provide new information that can be used in Seif’s trial,” Taha Ba’ara, a spokesman for the prosecutor general’s office, told Reuters Thursday.

Libya’s new rulers, who aim to draw up a democratic constitution, are keen to try Gadhafi’s family members and loyalists at home to reassure the country’s citizens that those who helped Gadhafi stay in power for 42 years are being punished.

Seif al-Islam will have to respond to charges that include financial corruption, murder and rape, according to a statement from Justice Minister Ali Ashour in April.

The charges, which he denies, relate to crimes he allegedly committed during the NATO-backed revolt that toppled his father last year.

Ba’ara said a government delegation including the Libyan army’s chief-of-staff, the finance minister, and a member of the prosecutor general’s office had travelled to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, to escort Senoussi back home.

Libya was set to question Senoussi Thursday, as the U.S. and rights groups urged that he receive a fair trial.

Human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a relative lack of rule of law mean that legal proceedings – both for Senoussi and for Seif al-Islam – will not meet international standards.

Rights groups Wednesday called on Libya’s government to hand over Senussi to the ICC where an arrest warrant for him remains in force.

In July, a war crimes lawyer who was detained in Libya for three weeks on spying allegations said her experience had shown it was impossible for Seif al-Islam to get a fair trial in his home country.

Senoussi’s daughter said Thursday his family was taken by surprise by his extradition after Mauritania assured them that it would not happen.

“We were with my dad when he was called at 7 a.m. for an important meeting which turned out to be his handover to Libya,” Senussi’s eldest daughter Anud Abdullah al-Senussi told private radio station Radio Nouakchott Info.

“I strongly regret Mauritania’s decision and wish to express my disappointment at my father’s extradition, because the authorities, including the president of the republic, assured us that he would not be extradited,” she said in Arabic.

The 21-year-old said they had been told of the decision “so we could at least say goodbye.”

She said Senussi had been living in a “prison villa” in a northern suburb of the Mauritanian capital where he had been “well treated but deprived of all exterior contact except his family.”

Despite pressure from Libya for Nouakchott to extradite him, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz had in August ruled out the handover, saying Senussi must answer to his crimes in Mauritania.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 07, 2012, on page 9.

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