AMSTERDAM/TRIPOLI Libya authorized payment of almost $200 million to Mauritania months after it extradited the Libyan ex-spy chief to face trial at home in defiance of an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest, Libyan government documents show.
Abdullah al-Senussi is wanted by the ICC on suspicion of orchestrating brutal reprisals during the 2011 uprising that led to the fall and death of Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the North African country with an iron fist for 42 years.
A lawyer for Senussi told Reuters he believed the $200 million payment, equivalent to about 5 percent of Mauritania's gross domestic product, was designed to secure Senussi's repatriation after he fled to Mauritania in March last year.
The payment was shown in government documents seen by Reuters, and Libyan officials said it was made as aid for Mauritania, a poor West African country with which Tripoli has had important investment ties.
Former Libyan deputy prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagur denied that the 250 million Libyan dinars - about $200 million - donation to Mauritania was made for Senussi's handover.
"That amount was made to help Mauritania as Libya has helped the Mauritanian economy before. We already have big investments in Mauritania," he told Reuters.
Abu Shagur led the first Libyan delegation to the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott after Senussi was arrested in March 2012 to lead the negotiations for his handover.
Senussi was one of Gaddafi's closest lieutenants for decades and may have information about the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Scotland and the 1984 shooting of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London.
Lawyers for Senussi are keen to see him extradited from Libya to the ICC in The Hague because the international war crimes court does not have the death penalty.
In a July 24, 2012 diplomatic "note verbale" from the Libyan embassy in Mauritania, also seen by Reuters, Libyan authorities requested authorization for an airplane chartered from a Libyan company to land for 72 hours in Nouakchott with the purpose of "transporting the Libyan spy chief".
But Senussi was not repatriated until early September, arriving in Tripoli on September 5, when he was taken into custody by Libya's post-Gaddafi transitional authorities.
On November 14, the Libyan council of ministers published a decree authorizing payments to several countries, including a payment of 250 million Libyan dinars "as a donation to the Mauritanian people".
There have been Libyan investments in Mauritania since 1978, starting with an investment by a company dealing with the fisheries industry, a government official told Reuters. There are also commercial investments, including in banking.
Reuters was not able to confirm that there had been previous large donations.
"These new documents establish conclusively that Libya was responsible for the rendition of Senussi and that it paid a vast sum of money to Mauritanian officials to induce them to violate international law," said Ben Emmerson, Senussi's lawyer.
"The figure of 250 million Libyan dinars represents more than 5 percent of the entire GDP of Mauritania. That is an indication of the lengths Libya was prepared to go to in order to get its hands on Senussi."
Emmerson cited press reports from Mauritania in which an opposition member of parliament raised questions as to what had happened to the $200 million from Libya.
Since the ICC issued a warrant for Senussi after a referral by the U.N. Security Council, any attempt to have him extradited to anywhere other than the court's detention center in The Hague would violate international law.
The ICC indicted Senussi along with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam but both remain in Libya while the Tripoli government and the ICC wrangle over who has the right to try the pair.
Libya has said that since it is willing and able to give the two men a fair trial, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the case. Libya has hired top human rights lawyers to argue its case before ICC judges in The Hague.
Libya has said it will abide by the ICC's ruling. On Tuesday, in a filing to the ICC, Libya denied press reports that the trials of Senussi and Saif al-Islam would begin in February regardless of any ICC ruling.
"Mr al-Senussi has been charged with some of the most serious offences imaginable," said Emmerson, adding that this could still not excuse a flagrant breach of international law.
"There should be no repeat of the disgraceful show trial and execution of Saddam Hussein (in Iraq)," he said.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt, Ali Shuaib and Marie-Louise Gumichian, Editing by Sara Webb and Mark Heinrich)