Qaddafi’s son’s shrinking options for escaping with life and fortune
Saif al-Islam, Muammar Qaddafi's eldest son who has been on the run across Africa since his father's death, is weighing the options for his survival and the preservation of the fortune the Qaddafis amassed in their 42-year rule over Libya.
One would be to turn himself into the International Criminal Court in The Hague which seeks his arrest on a crimes against humanity warrant issued in June. Saturday, Oct. 29, the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo confirmed informal negotiations through intermediaries for his surrender although Saif al-Islam insists he is innocent. The Libya interim government has put in a prior claim for his custody and his trial at home.
Saif al-Islam is confronted with the classical dilemma of high-ranking political fugitives in possession of large fortunes – in his case, in hundreds of millions of dollars and gold.
He may opt for a safe and comfortable ICC cell in The Hague rather than continuing to live a vagabond life on the run in armored convoys from pursuit as in the last ten days. He may seek asylum in South Africa, Sudan or Zimbabwe, or live under the protection of the nomadic Tuareg tribes, who control large parts of five Saharan countries and supported his father.
Niger sources said Saturday he was heading for Mali.
The ICC prosecutor said: "We know he has a different option [other than surrender to the court] because apparently there is a group of mercenaries willing to move him to a country, probably Zimbabwe." Moreno-Ocampo added: "Some of the mercenaries may be from South Africa."
The ICC prosecutor did not name the intermediaries handling the contacts with Qaddafi's son. West European sources point to high-ranking German intelligence agents.
Their involvement is not surprising since the GermanDer Spiegel, known for its ties with intelligence sources in Berlin, revealed on Monday, Oct. 24 that the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence service, had given the Americans the exact address of Muammar Qaddafi's last hideout in Sirte, quoting a source as remarking: "Agents within the BND have a long tradition of cultivating sources in the Middle East, and managed to determine where the fallen dictator had hidden himself from revolutionary forces."
Those agents would naturally have been in touch with Safi al-Islam, as a senior member of the Qaddafi clan.
Saif's contacts with the ICC, believed to be advanced, would certainly cover the disposition of the financial assets he has got stashed in various secret places around the world. He would want to know if they would have to be requisitioned and if the Libyan interim government could claim them.
Tying into these questions was Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo's comment Saturday: "But we trust very much the person who is in touch for our side. He says he is innocent, he will prove he is innocent and then he is interested in the consequences after that [his acquittal]."
What Saif al Islam appears to be bargaining for at this time is an ICC statement affirming his treatment in custody as innocent of the campaign of murder and torture of civilians listed on the warrants against him, his late father and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi until his trial. This would entitle him while incarcerated for trial to manage his financial affairs through middlemen and fight the Libyan interim government's claims to the funds he controls.
The ICC prosecutor's first comment indicated that certain Western intelligence intermediaries indicated that if he turned himself in and cooperated with the inquiry, they would help him prove his innocence in court. However, Sunday, Moreno-Ocampo adopted a different tone, virtually shutting the door to the fugitive's would-be European helpers: "We have substantial evidence that Saif al Islam Qaddafi was involved in organizing attacks on civilians and hiring mercenaries," he warned.
This statement dampened Saif al-Islam's hopes of winning his case which he appeared to be basing on two arguments:
1. Unlike his three brothers, Mutassim, Sadi and Khamis, Saif held no military rank in the armed forces or intelligence service. Neither did he head any security force or have an armed militia at his disposal.
2. He may claim he was Muammar Qaddafi's front-man with no involvement in the operations against the rebellion or civilians. Three years ago, his father banished Saif al-Islam to London with an allowance generous enough to live like a playboy tycoon provided he stayed away from Tripoli. Qaddafi then named his fourth son Mutassim, who eventually died with him, his heir over the eldest son's head.
Saif hatched a plot to force his father to accept his return home by engineering the release in November 2009 of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi from a Scottish jail, where he was serving life for the bombing of Pan Am 103 in December 1988, in which 270 people, mostly American citizens, were killed over the Scottish village of Lockerbie. He was freed on the grounds that he was dying of cancer and had only three months to live. The bomber made his triumphal return home on Nov. 2, 2009 hand in hand with Saif al-Islam.
In those circumstances, there was no way Muammar Qaddafi could stop his son setting foot in Libya. But he never admitted him to his inner circle.
In the early days of the rebellion, the dictator let his eldest son play the role of spokesman without letting him take part in decision-making.
He may well argue that having been kept out of Qaddafi's close circle of advisers there were no grounds to charge him with war crimes.
For now, he is a hunted man with an international arrest warrant hanging over him. Arab sources report that over the weekend, US military and government representatives held talks in the Niger province of Agadez with local officials. A US military plane was sighted at a local airport. Agadez has been a way station for other Libyan fugitives, including another son of Muammar Gaddafi, Sadi.
By staying at large, Saif al Islam is gambling heavily against the Libyan NTC's determination to apprehend him and on the political instability of any host government prepared to give him asylum. Most of all, his protectors and various lawless elements will seek to take advantage of the fugitive for extortion until they bleed him white of the resources for buying his freedom.