By George Grant.
Tripoli, 24 August:
National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief has dismissed claims that Saif Qaddafi will be tried next month in Zintan as “rumours and lies”.
The intervention by Libya’s de facto president follows a growing number of reports to that effect in the international media, citing both the spokesman of the prosecutor-general, Taha Nasser Bara, and the Libyan representative to the International Criminal Court, Ahmed Al-Jawani.
There has also been speculation that the trial will take place independent of any involvement from the ICC, which has a warrant for Saif’s arrest on charges of Crimes Against Humanity.
“This definitely will not happen”, Magarief told the Libya Herald today. “It is just rumours and lies”.
The claims first appeared on Saturday evening in a British newspaper, when it was reported that government ministers had decided to compromise on the trial’s location by holding it in Zintan as opposed to Tripoli, adding further that the ICC would not be involved.
“We are sure that the evidence we have gathered is solid and it will shock and surprise the world. We believe we are capable of holding a fair trial,” Bara was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur told this paper that his government had made no such decision, a position he has subsequently reiterated.
Yesterday, Bara told reporters that a charge-sheet against Saif would be “approved by the prosecutor-general in the coming days and a date set for the September trial opening” in Zintan.
On Monday, Al-Jawani was also reported as saying that the trial would take place next month.
As yet it remains unclear why the prosecutor-general’s office has chosen to speak publicly about the location and conditions of the trial, without consulting either the government or the head of the National Congress.
Insiders have said that the extremely sensitive nature of the case, combined with the significant logistical challenges of putting on such a high-profile trial securely, mean that it will be impossible to proceed without government approval.
The ICC has said that it has not received any official confirmation from the Libyan authorities regarding either the date or location of the trial. The court has also said that it has had no contact with Al-Jawani regarding the matter.
“We work in seven countries. We have these kinds of rumours in different countries all the time. We can’t just pick up the phone every time we hear a rumour”, a spokeswoman told the Libya Herald.
The ICC has previously requested that Libya hand Saif over to them to stand trial in The Hague. However, the government has repeatedly insisted that Saif be tried in Libya, and has submitted a challenge to the ICC’s position that it is a competent body to try the case.
The challenge centres on the so-called principle of complementarity, which holds that the ICC can only try cases when national jurisdictions have proven themselves either unable or unwilling to do so.
When the court first issued its warrant for Saif’s arrest last year, its mandate was not in doubt, given that the Qaddafi regime was clearly not willing to put one of its leading members on trial.
Since the fall of the regime, the new government has said that it is now capable of prosecuting Saif, and that an ICC trial in The Hague is no longer needed.
On 1 June, the ICC suspended its request that Saif be handed over, pending the outcome of its review to the government’s challenge, which is still ongoing.
Of primary concern to the ICC is the question of whether any trial will be free and fair.
Prior to his departure in June, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo, repeatedly hinted at a compromise option, whereby the trial would take place inside Libya, but with support from the court to ensure that international standards would be met.