Anti-Gaddafi couple rendered by UK offer to settle for £1 and an apology

March 4, 2013

Image of Abdul-hakim Belhaj

A Gaddafi opponent who was kidnapped and ‘rendered’ back to Libya – along with his heavily pregnant wife – by British intelligence in 2004 has offered to settle his case against the UK Government for £1 and an apology.Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and wife Fatima Boudchar are suing the UK Government, as well as Jack Straw and Mark Allen – respectively Foreign Secretary and Director of Counter-Terrorism at MI6 at the time – over their role in the couple’s abduction and torture.

Documents found in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi show that Mark Allen wrote to the dictator’s spy chief, Moussa Koussa, to point out that while the US may have paid the “air cargo” for the couple’s rendition the “intelligence…was British.”

The offer from Mr Belhaj and his wife comes as the Government seeks to push plans for secret courts through Parliament, which could be used to hide cases such as theirs from public view. Ken Clarke, the minister responsible, has claimed that secret courts – known as ‘Closed Material Procedures’ (CMPs) – are necessary in order to stop Government payouts. His position was last week described as “thoroughly misleading” by former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald.In a letter sent to the Prime Minister, Mr Straw, and Sir Mark, Mr Belhaj says:

“I am making an open offer to settle our litigation. My wife and I are willing to end our case against the UK Government and Messrs Straw and Allen in exchange for a token compensation of a British pound from each defendant, an apology and an admission of liability for what was done to us.”He adds:“Various media reports I have seen suggest that our motive for bringing this case is to enrich ourselves. I wish to lay this misconception to rest. It is certainly true that my wife and I suffered deeply during our kidnap and in Libya…But we have come to court in Britain because we believe your courts can deliver justice.”

On the Government’s proposals for CMPs, Mr Belhaj says:“It seems the UK Government wants our case to be heard in secret. I have been a victim of a secret trial before, in Gaddafi’s Libya…I have seen press reports of ministers seeking to justify secret trials on the basis that the government has to pay large settlements to protect national security. You can now settle this case at little cost to the UK taxpayer.”Shortly after Mr Belhaj’s kidnap, his fellow Gaddafi dissident, Sami al-Saadi, was seized in another joint US-UK operation. Mr al-Saadi’s wife and four young children were sent to Libya with him.These seizures were the secret half of Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ with Gaddafi, as a result of which UK intelligence services helped track down and hand over his opponents.

Reprieve Legal Director, Cori Crider said: “What our clients want from the Government is an admission, an apology and an explanation of how this was allowed to happen. It is time to put the ghosts of Tony Blair’s toxic ‘deal in the desert’ with Gaddafi to rest, and this is the perfect opportunity for David Cameron to do so. Fatima Boudchar and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj are asking for justice – and the token ‘payment’ will cost the PM the price of his latte. The next time the government repeats its mantra that secret courts will save the public purse, remember: this family was willing to walk away for £3.”

Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day, said: “Mr Belhaj and his wife, Fatima, were motivated to bring their case to the UK, not for money, but because they believed the British courts would deliver a fair trial and hold to account those responsible for their rendition and torture. They are now offering a swift resolution to their claim, which would deliver what is most important to them, apologies and admissions of wrong doing.”