TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Two senior officials under late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi went on trial on Monday accused of wasting public money by facilitating a compensation payment of more than $2 billion to families of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
The trial of the two men - former Foreign Minister Abdel-Ati al-Obeidi and former Secretary General of the General People’s Congress Mohammed Zwai - was swiftly adjourned to give their legal team more time to prepare.
Zwai was the head of the legislature under Gaddafi, who was overthrown after an uprising last year and later killed.
Libya’s new rulers, who aim to draw up a democratic constitution, are keen to try Gaddafi’s family members and loyalists to show the country’s citizens that those who helped Gaddafi stay in power for 42 years are being punished.
But human rights activists fret a weak central government and a relative lack of rule of law mean legal proceedings will not meet international standards.
The two men’s appearance in the dock - 14 months after they were arrested - was brief.
“I refute these charges against me,” Zwai told the court. Obedi also denied the charges.
The judge, whose name was not given, read out the charges against the duo, saying they were accused of arranging compensation worth $2.7 billion for the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing to try to get them to drop charges against Libya.
The 1988 bombing of a PanAm flight over Lockerbie in Scotland killed 270 people. Libyan Abdel Basset al-Meghrahi, who always denied involvement in downing the jet, was convicted of the bombing. He was released from jail in 2009 amid huge controversy in Britain and died of cancer in May.
Most but not all of the compensation was paid out by Libya on condition that U.N. sanctions against it were cancelled and U.S. trade sanctions against it lifted.
The judge said the two men’s action was a crime because “the compensation was a waste of public money especially when there was no guarantee the charges in the Lockerbie case would be dropped if the compensation was made”.
The judge adjourned the men’s trial until October 15 after Mustafa Kishlaf, the defense lawyer, said he needed access to certain files and more time to study the case.
On Sunday, war-time interim Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Alagy told reporters that the current trials of Gaddafi-era officials were “invalid” because the prosecutor general’s office was not following the necessary legal steps.
Under Libyan law, the Indictment Chamber reviews cases and then refers them to the appropriate court. But Alagy said prosecutors were bypassing this body and demanded they review their procedures and the legality of those held in custody.
Buzeid Dorda, a former intelligence chief and the first former senior official from the Gaddafi era to be put on trial in Libya, said in July he had been denied the right to meet privately with a lawyer and had been subjected to illegal interrogations during his 10 months in detention.
His trial, which began on June 5, has been adjourned several times since for procedural reasons.
Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, is awaiting trial on war crimes charges and Abdullah al-Senussi, Libya’s former spy chief known as “Gaddafi’s black box”, is also expected to be put on trial. He was arrested last week.
On Sunday, prosecutors said the trial of Saif al-Islam - which was due to begin this month - will be delayed by five months to include any relevant testimony obtained from the interrogation of Senussi.
In July, a war crimes lawyer who had been detained in Libya for three weeks on spying allegations said her experience had shown it was impossible for Saif al-Islam to get a fair trial in his home country.
Writing By Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Andrew Osborn