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Qaddafi cousin: Egypt sold me out for aid

A jailed cousin of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has accused Egypt of trading his freedom and its principles for US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) in aid for the floundering economy. Bradley Hope reports from Cairo

CAIRO //A jailed cousin of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has accused Egypt of trading his freedom and its principles for US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) in aid for the floundering economy.

Ahmed Qaddaf Al Dam, who also served as an aide to Qaddafi, was arrested by Egyptian police in March after Libya asked for his extradition on charges of corruption and plotting to silence dissidents abroad.

Two other men arrested with Mr Al Dam - Ali Maria, the former Libyan ambassador to Cairo, and Mohamed Ibrahim, the brother of a Qaddafi spokesman - were immediately transferred to Libya.

Mr Al Dam remained behind after a Cairo court refused to approve his extradition because he has Egyptian and Libyan citizenship.

He might have escaped rough justice in Libya and lived quietly abroad but charges of attempted murder and illegal possession of a handgun were filed against him in connection with the shooting of a police officer during his arrest.

At the opening of his trial on Monday, he denied all charges.

Mr Al Dam said the charges and his freedom were the prices Egypt has paid to Libya for a $2bn deposit in Egypt's central bank in March.

He claimed through his lawyer that his arrest and the announcement of the aid package five days later were directly connected.

The Egyptian government, he said, had behaved cynically and in breach of its own legal traditions.

"How can Egypt forget human rights?" Mr Al Dam asked.

"How can you deliver someone who needs your protection? In the history of Egypt, Egypt has never tried to trade a human's life for money."

Libya claims Mr Al Dam took part in corruption, played a role in "planning operations against Libyan dissidents abroad" and "was involved in terrorist activity".

Mr Al Dam's lawyer, Esmat El Merghany, said her client renounced all ties to the Qaddafi regime at the start of the 2011 uprising and then helped to fund rebel groups in eastern Libya. Mr Al Dam denies all charges.

He is being held in Tora Prison on the outskirts of Cairo where Hosni Mubarak has been jailed, and is not alone in suspecting the motives behind the March arrests.

Besides the Egyptian government needing cash just to meet government payrolls, Libya has another commodity Egypt sorely needs: oil.

At the end of last month, Tripoli said it would soon start shipping oil to Egypt on interest-free credit for a year to help the country avoid shortages.

Suspicion about a possible deal extends across the border.

Alaa El Huni, an investment banker in Tripoli, said the detentions were widely seen in Libya as "bought" with money that Libyans need to rebuild their country.

Nineteen months after Qaddafi was killed and his government toppled, the Libyan government's grip is tenuous and the country's institutions remain weak, if not dysfunctional.

In particular, Libya's judicial system has yet to be rebuilt after serving as a rubber stamp for the whims and eccentricities of the late leader.

Militias practise their own form of justice, refusing to hand over detainees to the government for trial. Reports of continued torture in Libyan prisons are rife.

For that reason, international human-rights groups have warned against the extradition of Qaddafi-era figures to Libya for trial.

"Holding former Qaddafi officials and others to account for past crimes is an important step for Libyans to achieve justice," Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch said in March.

"But given the current level of abuse of detainees in Libya, no one facing trial should be sent back there unless the government can prove that they won't be abused or denied a fair trial."

The circumstances of Mr Al Dam's arrest at an apartment building in the upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek in Cairo are murky.

Egypt's public prosecutor said that Mr Al Dam resisted arrest and shot an officer as he was arrested. Mr Al Dam denied the accusation, claiming the officer shot himself by accident, Ms El Merghany said.

"Ahmed's door to his bedroom is bullet-proof," she said. "He refused to open the door because he didn't know who had broken into his house. He thought it was an assassination attempt. The officer shot the door and the ricocheted bullet hit his hand."

If found guilty of the Egyptian charges Mr Al Dam could face life in prison.

In his statement, Mr Al Dam lashed out at Nato for "the destruction of Libya" and unleashing "many wild people, thirsty for blood".

Nato enforced a no-fly zone during the uprising, which proved a crucial boost for rebel groups that eventually ousted Qaddafi and his regime.

The Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, said on April 28 that the Egyptian court's refusal to extradite Mr Al Dam would not affect relations between the two countries. Libya has appealed against the court decision that blocked the extradition.

"Relations between Egypt and Libya are older than … Al Dam and older than Zeidan," the Libyan Herald newspaper quoted him as saying. He added that the relationship was based on "Islam, neighbourliness and Arabism".

"Qaddaf Al Dam is a passing issue," Mr Zeidan said. "We are in agreement with Egypt, if legality permits. Our relationship will not be affected by this issue."

Under Mubarak, Egypt kept Libya at arms length but stopped short of joining with western in countries in shunning Qaddafi's regime completely.

Mubarak last travelled to Libya in 2005, where he described deep relations between the two countries. But diplomats say that while Mubarak was civil in formal meetings, he held deep suspicions about Qaddafi and his investments in Egypt.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians also worked in Libya, but many of them returned to Egypt as the uprising raged on in 2011.

bhope@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting by Reuters

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