In my last post, I noted that there was little-to-no information, much less verified information, about what convinced Mauritania to extradite Muammar Gaddafi’s former right-hand man, Abdullah al-Senussi, to Libya. After being held in the capital of Nouakchott (in a luxury villa no less) since March, Senussi was extradited to Libya late last week. With Mauritania having given absolutely no indication that it intended to give Senussi up, the move caught just about every observer (including yours truly) by surprise. Indeed, not even the penchant rumour mill, so characteristic of post-Gaddafi Libya, suggested that the transfer was looming. So why, then, did Mauritania do it or, perhaps more accurately, how did Libya convince Mauritania to change its tune?
Having reached out to various contacts to see whether anyone knew what had changed Mauritania’s mind, a number of individuals quickly responded that there was only one possible motivation: money. While certainly not far-fetched, I thought there must be something else to the story – economic cooperation, perhaps some oil concessions, or the development of stronger geopolitical ties. Turns out I was wrong and it had everything to do with money.
According to numerous sources, including Der Spiegel and the Libyan Herald, Libya paid 200 million US dollars in order to guarantee Senussi’s transfer. While some Libyan officials have denied that there was any direct transfer of cash, rumours persist that the money was transfered to Mauritania via an off-shore account.
Importantly, the buying the custody of a former Gaddafi regime official would be in line with recent practice. The extradition of former Libyan Prime Minister, Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, in June was guaranteed by a payment of “a sum of $100m and another $100m as an interest-free loan” to Tunisia. Interestingly, Libya’s Finance Minister, Hassan Zaglam, was on the plane that brought Senussi back to Libya. This fact has only fueled speculation that Libya paid Mauritania off. After all, it is certainly uncommon for Finance Ministers to be involved in extradition negotiations.
The payment may also help explain why France, which had also sought Senussi’s extradition, was ultimately unable to pursuade Mauritania to transfer him, despite the fact that French assistance was integral in assuring that Mauritania could arrest Senussi. It would, quite rightly, be a monstrous scandal in France had the government paid 1/5 of a billion dollars for the chance to prosecute Senussi.
The sheer amount itself is stunning. Put in a transitional justice context, two hundred million US dollars is significantly more than the entire yearly budget of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the case of the ICC, funds support the Court’s ongoing investigations in seven different situations, monitoring preliminary investigations into a dozen others, conducting a handful of ongoing trials, and the day-to-day functioning of an entire international organization seeking to eliminate impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In Libya, the money was doled out for just one man. Indeed, in this context, the popular criticisms of the costs of the ICC are a bit flabbergasting – but I digress.
Undoubtedly, many will be shocked by these numbers and disturbed by Libya’s willingness to shell out massive amounts of cash despite the need to rebuild after a costly war. On a practical leve, given the bevy of challenges Libya faces sinking 200 million dollars into gaining custody of one man might not seem like a particularly good investment. That being said, there is a palpable thirst to see Senussi brought to justice. And Senussi isn’t just any former Gaddafi official. In all probability, no one knows more about the Gaddafi regime and its crimes more intimately than Senussi himself. Thus, at least for some, it is likely that there doesn’t exist a price too high to see Senussi answer for his past and to have the generation of dark truths that he holds revealed.
Libya appears to have paid a massive premium to get their “crown jewel” of justice. The wisdom of that decision is in the eye of the beholder. But the cost only sharpens the need to ensure that Senussi’s trial is fair, legitimate and in line with international standards. If the opportunity to try Senussi fairly is squandered and his fate slips into the realm of revenge, it could cost Libya a lot more than money.