February 14, 2012 / 3:13 PM / 7 years ago

Tunisian court acquits Libyan ex-prime minister

TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian court has dropped charges against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s prime minister for illegally entering the country, his lawyer said, but Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi remains in jail pending a decision on his extradition to Libya.

Former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi speaks to the media during a news conference in Tripoli, August 18, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

“The court of Tozeur decided to free Mahmoudi... That decision is final,” lawyer Mabrouk Korchid told Reuters on Tuesday. “Tunisian authorities must release him immediately ... It is not just to keep him in prison despite the court’s decision.”

A Tunisian court ruled in November that Mahmoudi should be extradited to Libya, ignoring arguments that he would not be given a fair trial in an environment where Gaddafi himself was killed by rebels shortly after his capture in October and where a post-Gaddafi judiciary has yet to be properly established.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki later said that Mahmoudi would be extradited only once the situation had stabilised and Libya could guarantee the former premier a fair trial.

That left Mahmoudi in an unusual position, in which he has been acquitted of charges in Tunisia but has yet to be freed pending an agreement with the Libyan government over his fate.

Korchid said he was pushing to have al-Mahmoudi released while he awaited progress on the extradition process.

“They have no reason to keep him in jail. Sometimes they say it is for his own safety and sometimes they say it is pending an agreement with Libya ... But they cannot extradite him to Libya now because it is chaos there. Does that mean he should stay in jail forever?” Korchid said. “This is a political decision.”

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 fallen Libyan leader’s sons who has since been captured.

Mahmoudi served as Gaddafi’s prime minister from 2006 until he fled to neighbouring Tunisia around the time that rebel fighters took the country’s capital Tripoli in August.

Soon after fleeing to Tunisia, a court sentenced him to six months in jail for illegal entry, though this was later overturned on appeal. He was then kept in prison due to a new application for his extradition.

On Tuesday, the court ordered that he should be freed, his lawyer said.

In an interview via his lawyer in October, Mahmoudi told Reuters he was a technocrat and not involved in any of the arrests, disappearances and killings carried out during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. Libyan transitional government officials have called on Tunisia to hand him over for trial.

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