TUNIS A Tunisian court ruled on Tuesday that the man who served as prime minister under Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi should be extradited to Libya.
Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi is the first senior official to be sent back for trial under Libya's new leaders and his extradition could establish a precedent for other countries who have given refuge to members of Gaddafi's entourage.
Mahmoudi was Gaddafi's prime minister from 2006 until he fled to neighboring Tunisia around the time that rebel fighters took the capital, Tripoli, in August. Tuesday's court ruling is final and cannot be appealed.
"The judge decided to extradite him to Libya," said Mahmoudi's lawyer, Mabrouk Korchid. "It's an unfair decision, a political decision. If any harm comes to him in Libya, the Tunisian justice system will be a party to that."
Lawyers for former Gaddafi lieutenants and family members who fled after his rule collapsed say they will not be given a fair trial, and point as evidence to the violent death of Muammar Gaddafi last month.
Mahmoudi was for years a powerful figure inside Gaddafi's ruling elite, though he clashed repeatedly behind the scenes with Saif al-Islam, one of the Libyan leaders sons who is now wanted for trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
During Libya's civil war Mahmoudi aligned himself closely, in public, with Gaddafi's rule. He gave televised briefings to foreign reporters during which he said Gaddafi would not leave office and condemned the NATO air strikes on Libya.
Soon after fleeing to Tunisia, a court there sentenced him to six months in jail for illegally entering the country, though this was later overturned on appeal.
He was kept in prison pending a decision on his extradition. A lower court ordered that he be freed, but this was never carried out because Libya's interim government submitted a fresh extradition request.
In an interview conducted via his lawyer last month, Mahmoudi told Reuters he was a technocrat who was not involved in any of the arrests, disappearances and killings carried out during Gaddafi's 42-year rule.
"I tell you one thing: I was hated by Gaddafi's entourage," Mahmoudi said. "I am convinced that I have done nothing bad to the Libyans. My role was to ensure food supplies for the Libyan people, particularly during the crisis."
Other members of Muammar Gaddafi's entourage who fled to neighboring countries and are wanted for trial in Libya include three of his sons: Saadi, who is in Niger, and Hannibal and Mohammed, who are in Algeria.
Saif al-Islam's exact location is unknown. Prosecutors with the ICC said last month they had been in indirect contact with him about giving himself up.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Robert Woodward)