Calls for former prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi’s (centre) release have been rejected by
the internationally recognised Government of National Accord

The justice ministry associated with the eastern Libya’s unrecognised rival government ruled that two of the former regime’s senior officials — former prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi (2006-2011) and Muammar Qadhafi’s notorious intelligence chief and brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi — should be released. If they are, they would follow external security head, Abuzed Omar Dorda, who was released from custody in Tripoli in February. Like Dorda, the eastern justice ministry recommended that Mahmoudi (b.1945) and Senussi (b.1951) be released on health grounds but there are also political implications associated with this.

So far there has been no national reconciliation process which would enable Libyan citizens to come to terms with the Qadhafi era’s crimes or for the perpetrators to be held accountable. As the political crisis has persisted, former regime officials have sought to reclaim positions of power in the current political vacuum and so preventing any focus on Qadhafi-era crimes is in their interest.

The Bayda based justice ministry has no control over what happens in Tripoli where Mahmoudi and Senussi are held. The internationally recognised Government of National Accord’s (GNA) own justice ministry in Tripoli has also rejected its eastern rival’s decision.

There were no signs that Paris had any involvement in the debate over the men’s fate but it has implications for French politics. Both have information regarding a criminal case involving former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s (2007-2012) acceptance of campaign contributions from Qadhafi in 2007. French investigators met Senussi at Al-Habda prison at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport in early February to discuss the matter. He reportedly confirmed that he oversaw the Qadhafi regime’s efforts to donate €7 million (US$9.45 million) in exchange for: the sale of French listening devices to spy on local citizens; and an intervention by Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, on behalf of Senussi.

Senussi had been convicted in absentia by a Paris court in 1999 to life imprisonment for his role in the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger which resulted in the deaths of 170 people. The alleged motive for the bombing was France’s support for Chad in its war with Libya which ended in the humiliating Battle of Maaten al-Sarra of 1987 when over 70 Libya tanks and 30 aircraft were destroyed. While it is unclear what this might mean for Libya’s reconciliation process, releasing these two individuals could jeopardise this high-profile French investigation.

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