War crimes court staff accused of spying released in Libya

Zintan

Libya has released four staffers from the International Criminal Court who were detained after meeting with the imprisoned son of deposed strongman Moammar Kadafi, the court said Monday.

Australian attorney Melinda Taylor was accused of engaging in espionage during a visit with Seif Islam Kadafi over three weeks ago, in concert with her Lebanese interpreter Helene Assaf. The legal team was meeting with Kadafi, who faces charges of crimes against humanity, to discuss his defense.

Taylor was accused of passing papers to Kadafi, including a coded letter from a former aide, alarming Libyan authorities. Libyan media reported she was also carrying a pen camera. Two other court staffers, Alexander Khodakov and Esteban Peralta Losilla, stayed with Assaf and Taylor during their detention.

Court President Sang-Hyun Song, who was visiting Libya when the release was announced, thanked the Libyan authorities for letting them go. The four staffers are scheduled to return Monday to the Hague.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said their negotiations with the court would continue. "If the ICC wants to send another team, they will have to send one that respects Libyan sovereignty," Aziz was quoted by Reuters at a news conference Monday in the mountain town of Zintan.

Though the international court initially insisted the staffers had immunity while on an official mission, it later promised that the allegations would be “fully investigated” once the staffers were returned and said it “deeply regrets any events that may have given rise to concerns on the part of the Libyan authorities.”

“In carrying out its functions, the court has no intention of doing anything that would undermine the national security of Libya,” it said in a statement on June 22.

The case of Seif Islam Kadafi was already a point of contention between Libya and the international court. Libya has refused to extradite Kadafi, arguing that it should try him in its own courts. Trying Kadafi would be “a historical opportunity to eradicate the long-standing culture of impunity,” its attorneys said.

Outside experts are uneasy about the idea, fearing the trial could be woefully politicized or aggravate conflicts in the restive country. Human-rights groups have raised concerns about a lack of legal protections for Kadafi, held for months by a militia in remote Zintan.

The question of where Kadafi will be tried has yet to be settled. At the beginning of June, ICC judges ruled Libya did not have to turn Kadafi over to the court yet, awaiting another ruling on whether Libya is right in insisting he should be tried inside the country. The ICC is supposed to be a court of last resort.

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— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: The president of the International Criminal Court, Sang-Hyun Song, meets with Libyan Justice Minister Ali Hmeida Ashur after arriving at Tripoli's Metiga military airport on Monday. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

 
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