The UK government has agreed to pay more than £2 million to the family of a Libyan dissident, after accepting its role in his illegal rendition, his legal team said yesterday.
Sami al-Saadi, a leading opponent of Muammar al-Gaddafi, was imprisoned and tortured after he was forced to board a plane back to Tripoli, along with his wife and four children, in 2004 in a joint UK-US-Libyan operation.
Ministers are now understood to have offered him a sum of £2.2m, but the government has not admitted liability, Mr Saadi said.
“My family suffered enough when they were kidnapped and flown to Gaddafi’s Libya,” he added. “They will now have the chance to complete their education in the new, free Libya. I will be able to afford the medical care I need because of the injuries I suffered in prison.
“I started this process believing that a British trial would get to the truth in my case. But today, with the government trying to push through secret courts, I feel that to proceed is not best for my family.
“I went through a secret trial once before, in Gaddafi’s Libya. In many ways, it was as bad as the torture. It is not an experience I care to repeat.
“Even now, the British government has never given an answer to the simple question: ‘Were you involved in the kidnap of me, my wife and my children?’
“I think the payment speaks for itself. We will be donating a portion of the proceeds to support other Libyan torture victims.
“We look forward to the result of the police investigation and hope there will be a full and fair public inquiry into our case.”
Mr Saadi was living outside Libya to avoid Gaddafi’s agents before he and his family were put on a plane in Hong Kong and flown to Libya, where they were imprisoned.
He was held and tortured for a number of years.
Evidence of the UK’s hand in the operation emerged after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, lawyers Leigh Day & Co said.
CIA correspondence with Libyan intelligence, found in an office belonging to Moussa Koussa, the head of Gaddafi’s intelligence agency, apparently stated: “We are… aware that your service had been co-operating with the British to effect [Mr Saadi’s] removal to Tripoli… The Hong Kong government may be able to co-ordinate with you to render [Mr Saadi] and his family into your custody.”
The operation in 2004 followed former prime minister Tony Blair’s “deal in the desert” with Gaddafi, which paved the way for the release back to Libya of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
Libyan military commander Abdul Hakim Belhadj, another alleged victim of illegal rendition, who went on to lead the battle for Tripoli, is still pursuing legal action.
Mr Belhadj, 45, claims he had been living in exile in Beijing before being detained with his wife, Fatima, while en route to the UK, where they were trying to seek asylum. He alleges they were sent back to Libya – which was under Gaddafi’s rule – and imprisoned and tortured.
A government spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that the government and the other defendants have reached a settlement with the claimants.
“There has been no admission of liability and no finding by any court of liability.”