Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Picture: REUTERS/STRINGER
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Picture: REUTERS/STRINGER

The son of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has the right to run for president in 2019 despite facing charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), says a top Russian official.

Saif al-Islam, a one-time heir apparent to his father who has leadership ambitions, could become a unifying figure in the oil-rich state, said Mikhail Bogdanov, the Middle East envoy of President Vladimir Putin. “I think it will depend on their political will” in Libya, he said in an interview in Moscow this week. “The country has practically fallen apart, Libyans find it very hard to talk to each other.”

Gaddafi’s son is wanted by The Hague-based tribunal for crimes against humanity relating to a violent crackdown on demonstrations against his father’s rule in 2011. The Libyan autocrat was overthrown and killed later that year, ending more than four decades in power. The court’s chief prosecutor in October rejected a bid by Saif al-Islam to have the charges dropped, with his defence arguing he’d been convicted of the same offences in Libya.

Saif al-Islam, who was held by the Zintan militia in western Libya after his capture in 2011, was tried in a Tripoli court in absentia and convicted in 2015. The rebels holding him decided to free him in 2016 after Libya’s eastern-based parliament declared a general amnesty. He hasn’t been seen in public since. Bogdanov said he is in touch by phone with Saif al-Islam, who has assured him that he’s safe.

“Where is he?” said Bogdanov. “I don’t want to know.”

Arrest sought

Tripoli prosecutors continue to seek the arrest of Saif al-Islam, saying he needs to be retried because he wasn’t present for the original hearings.

“The local Libyan legislature and judicial authorities have already delivered a verdict that he shouldn’t be pursued and has the right to participate in the political life of the country like any other Libyan citizen,” said Bogdanov, who is also deputy foreign minister. He noted that neither Russia nor the US recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Still, the outstanding charges mean Gaddafi’s son can’t make a comeback unless they are resolved through a “wider national reconciliation process”, said Mohamed Eljarh, co-founder of Libya Outlook for Research and Consulting, a Tobruk-based think-tank.

In addition to Saif al-Islam, eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar also has presidential ambitions, and other rival centres of power include the UN-backed government in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the western Misrata region.

Russia’s Bogdanov said the only way out of the crisis in Libya, where UN-supervised elections are planned for 2019, is for the rival Libyan factions to agree among themselves on power-sharing, which Moscow is pushing as a solution. 

— Bloomberg