Dropped charges against Gaddafi "gift" to Libya

Hasni Abidi says the dropping of the case is a great gift to Gaddafi Keystone

The decision by Geneva's chief prosecutor to drop the charges against a son of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his wife has been criticised by an Arab expert.

This content was published on September 4, 2008 - 09:36

Hasni Abidi, head of a research centre in Geneva, tells swissinfo why he thinks Wednesday's announcement plays into the hands of the Libyan leader.

The prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli said the case against Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife would be closed because the former servants had withdrawn their complaint.

It came a day after the lawyer for the two former domestic staff members said the complaint of alleged bodily harm, making threats and coercion was rescinded in a "free manner".

The July arrest and charging of Gaddafi and his wife led to a diplomatic crisis between Libya and Switzerland.

The Swiss foreign ministry described the decision by the Geneva prosecutor as "a very important step" towards resolving the affair. A spokesman said talks with Libya would continue until relations returned to the level they were at before the crisis.

But Hasni Abidi, the director of the Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World in Geneva, said he was disappointed with the events of the past two days.

swissinfo: What do you make of this decision?

Hasni Abidi: It is a magnificent gift to the Gaddafi regime, which is currently celebrating the 39th anniversary of the Libyan revolution. It should be noted that this case allowed many Libyans to dream that a country would finally serve justice to one of Gaddafi's children, and therefore to the regime itself.

Unfortunately the legal proceedings have been stopped and the saddest part is they were halted by the justice authorities themselves! This decision leaves a bitter aftertaste of unfinished business, even if it is something of a victory for the two complainants, since they were granted permission to stay in Switzerland on humanitarian grounds, and received compensation.

swissinfo: The canton Geneva justice officials have always claimed independence, and this autonomy has been recognised by the federal authorities.

H.A.: There are some grey areas. For example, the two plaintiffs had affirmed from the start of the affair that they would not renounce their complaint, until they were sure their family members were safe. Then from one day to the next, they decided to withdraw it. And this even before there was news from the brother of the plaintiffs.

To believe that the High Commission for Human Rights, via the Commission of Missing People, is going to be able to deal with the missing brother - as is hoped by the victims' lawyer who took the plea to the UN – is at the very least naïve. Just think about the 1,200 people who went missing from the Abou Salim prison in Tripoli in 1996. No international organisation has succeeded in carrying out any inquiry.

It is certain that the two plaintiffs could only have been influenced by the climate that surrounded this affair, especially since the Swiss government declared the ball was in the Geneva camp. Which meant that only the two plaintiffs could find a way out of this crisis.

Imagine a country that tries to deal with a diplomatic crisis by saying the two staff are the only ones capable of resolving it? It is an enormous burden for the two plaintiffs to shoulder.

In fact, the out-of-court resolution of this affair is reminiscent of other crises, like the Lockerbie affair. There also, the Libyan regime paid to be cleared.

swissinfo: The affair is not completely over. But it has passed a decisive stage. How would you judge the overall reaction of the Swiss government to the affair?

H.A.: In the Arab world it is customary to say that a good chef is someone who manages to salvage a dish that has turned out badly. In this instance, Swiss diplomacy has not been able to recover from a bad start. The Swiss authorities were not able to act in parallel with the Geneva judiciary machine.

The Libyan regime was therefore able to exploit the affair for its own purposes, and that is what it has done. One could therefore say that Swiss diplomacy – failing to evaluate the situation properly and lacking the ability to anticipate – was not able to weigh up the consequences of the arrest of Gaddafi's son on July 15. Switzerland only ended up suffering.

swissinfo: Did Switzerland underestimate Libya, which is now courted by the biggest world powers and which possesses significant oil reserves that could make it a heavyweight player in the future?

H.A.: That's the crux of the problem. Switzerland did not weigh up Libya's importance. This regime is drunk on power, not only because of its important currency reserves and its wealth in hydrocarbons, but also thanks to its restoration to the heart of the international community.

Just this week, Italy offered public excuses and large financial compensation for its colonialisation of Libya. And this Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to Tripoli to sign an important agreement with Libya.

Switzerland has well and truly under-estimated the weight and importance of Libya as well as its capacity for harm.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

Apologies demanded

To resolve the diplomatic row Tripoli demanded the criminal procedure be shelved and for Switzerland to apologise over the way in which the Gaddafis were arrested.

Libya equally took a number of retaliatory steps against Swiss interests.

Two Swiss nationals accused of immigration offences were detained for around ten days but still cannot leave Libya.

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15 July: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife Aline, who was nine months pregnant, were arrested at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva. They are charged with having mistreated their two domestic staff, which they deny.

17 July: After having being detained for two nights, the couple are charged with inflicting physical injuries and using threats and force against the staff, a Moroccan and a Tunisian. The couple are released on SFr500,000 ($476,500) bail after two days in detention.

19 July: Two Swiss nationals, one of whom worked for the ABB industrial group, are arrested in Libya. ABB and other Swiss businesses are forced to close their offices. Swiss International Airlines is forced to limit the number of flights to Tripoli.

22 July: The foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey interrupts her holiday to call her Libyan counterpart to protest against these measures.

23 July: Libya threatens to stop crude oil deliveries to Switzerland. Around 200 people demonstrate in front of the Swiss embassy in Tripoli. Bern forms a task force and sends a diplomatic delegation to Libya.

29 July: Two Swiss nationals arrested in Libya are released from jail but are not permitted to leave the country.

10 August: Swiss International Airlines resumes regular flights to Libya for the first time since July 20.

15 August: Libya releases the mother of one of the plaintiffs. A brother is still believed to be missing.

13-16 August: A high-ranking Libyan delegation arrives in Switzerland for talks with the foreign ministry.

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