BEIJING, (Reuters) – The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Sunday he has “substantial evidence” that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya’s toppled leader, was involved in organising attacks on civilians and hiring mercenaries.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo also said he met Saif al-Islam several years ago, and Saif al-Islam had backed the ICC’s efforts to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over alleged genocide and other crimes in Darfur.
“We have a witness who explained how Saif was involved with the planning of the attacks against civilians, including in particular the hiring of core mercenaries from different countries and the transport of them, and also the financial aspects he was covering,” Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters in Beijing, where he was attending an academic conference.
Moreno-Ocampo then clarified that he meant he had multiple witnesses, and not just one.
“So we have substantial evidence to prove the case, but of course Saif is still (presumed) innocent, and (will) have to go to court and the judge will decide,” he said.
Moreno-Ocampo said he was planning to fly to New York to brief the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday about the court’s work in Libya.
The ICC said on Saturday that Saif al-Islam was in contact via intermediaries about possibly surrendering, but it also had information that mercenaries were trying to take him to a friendly African nation where he could evade arrest.
The court has warned Saif al-Islam, 39, apparently anxious to avoid capture by Libyan interim government forces in whose hands his father Muammar Gaddafi was killed last week, that it could order a mid-air interception if he tried to flee by plane from his Sahara desert hideout in Niger for a safe haven.
“We received through an informal intermediary some questions from Saif apparently about the legal system — what happens to him if he appears before the judges, can he be sent to Libya, what happens if he’s convicted, what happens if he’s acquitted,” said Moreno-Ocampo.
“We are not in any negotiations with Saif,” he said. “It’s up to Saif Gaddafi to decide if he is surrendering himself, staying in hiding, or trying to escape to another country.”
The court will not force Saif al-Islam to return to Libya provided another country is willing to receive him after he is either cleared of any charges or serves his sentence, said Moreno-Ocampo.
He also recalled that he had met Saif al-Islam a couple of years ago, and he had seemed supportive of the court’s work, including its efforts to arrest and try Bashir for his alleged role in atrocities in Sudan’s divided Darfur region.
Before a popular uprising imperiled his father’s grip on Libya, Saif al-Islam had cast himself as an enlightened supporter of reform at home and across the Arab world.
“I met Saif once in Berlin in a gala dinner for justice and he mentioned to me that he would support my efforts to do justice in Darfur, and in fact a couple of times he made public statements proposing to arrest President Bashir, and he was calling me to inform me that he did it,” said Moreno-Ocampo.
The prosecutor said that Saif al-Islam’s apparent metamorphosis did not shock him.
“Nothing surprises me,” he said. “After all these years, nothing surprises me.”