The International Criminal Court is in indirect negotiations with Muammar Gaddafi’s son about his possible surrender for trial, the chief prosecutor has revealed.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said talks were being held through intermediaries, whom he did not identify.
He said they wanted to assure Saif al-Islam Gaddafi that he would receive a fair trial and that he could be helped to find a new country of residence if acquitted.
He added that he did not know exactly where Saif Gaddafi was.
“Through intermediaries, we have informal contact with Saif,” Mr Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement. “The Office of the Prosecutor has made it clear that if he surrenders to the ICC, he has the right to be heard in court, he is innocent until proven guilty.”
The 39-year-old son of the former Libyan dictator was reported to be heading through the desert to Mali, where the country’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi fled on Wednesday.
International arrest warrants were issued in June when Saif Gaddafi and al-Senoussi were indicted along with the former Libyan leader for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gaddafi regime that broke out in February.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he believed Saif Gaddafi was also in touch with unidentified mercenaries offering to find him refuge in an African country that does not co-operate with the court.
He mentioned Zimbabwe as a likely possibility, and the court is in contact with other countries to prevent his escape by denying any plane carrying him permission to fly through its air space.
“We are having informal conversations with Saif Gaddafi in order to see if he can be surrendered to the court,” Mr Moreno-Ocampo said in The Hague.
“We know he has a different option because apparently there is a group of mercenaries willing to move him to a country, probably Zimbabwe,” the prosecutor said.
Some of the mercenaries may be from South Africa.
Saif Gaddafi was pressing for clarifications about his fate should he be acquitted, and Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he has made it clear he could ask the judges to send him to a country other than Libya, so long as that country will accept him.
“He says he is innocent and he will prove his innocence,” the prosecutor said.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo also said the court was waiting for documentary evidence confirming the death of Muammar Gaddafi to formally close the case against him.
The former leader and members of his entourage were captured near his hometown of Sirte on October 20 after their convoy came under attack by Nato. He died shortly afterwards from bullet wounds and the circumstances of his death are under investigation.
His son Mutassim, who had been heading the defence of Sirte, also died and both were buried in unmarked graves in an Islamic ceremony at dawn earlier this week.
Saif al-Islam, whom the court described as the de facto prime minister during the early months of the uprising, was the heir apparent in the regime that ruled Libya for 42 years.
Word of his movement toward Mali came on Thursday from an adviser to Niger’s president, who could not be named.
The adviser, an influential elder in the ethnic Tuareg community which is spread across several Saharan countries and which overwhelmingly supported Gaddafi, said Saif was somewhere between Algeria and Niger. He was unlikely to stop in Niger because the government of President Mahamadou Issoufou has said it would arrest him and hand him over to the court in The Hague.
The UN Security Council authorised the court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, to investigate events in Libya last February.