Government pays £500,000 to settle claims of former Libyan dissident

Britain FINALLY says sorry to Libyan dissident who has been fighting for six years for an apology after ‘MI6 helped kidnap him and his wife’ – as she gets £500,000 payout and he walks away with nothing

  • Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were tortured under Gaddafi’s regime
  • They claim UK officials ‘assisted and arranged’ their kidnap and incarceration 
  • The UK government issued an unreserved apology in Parliament today 
  • The settlement does not mean Britain accepts legal liability for what happened 
  • Ms Boudchar is being given £500,000 and both get a written apology from May 

A Libyan dissident kidnapped with his heavily pregnant partner after MI6 tipped off the Americans so they could hand them to Colonel Gaddafi have received an apology and £500,000 from Theresa May for their ‘appalling’ treatment today.

Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were grabbed by US secret services in Thailand in 2004 and delivered to the dictator in Tripoli where he was jailed for six years and tortured.

Today Attorney General Jeremy Wright was forced to say sorry to the couple and revealed that Ms Boudchar was being given £500,000 in compensation as she watched in the Commons today.

Libyan politician Belhaj, who was not there, said previously he would settle the case  for £3 – £1 for him, his wife and their unborn baby – but today it was confirmed he was given no payout at all.

He also demanded a formal apology from the British government, which was delivered today six years after he first sued.

Hakim Belhaj (pictured) and his wife Fatima Boudchar were grabbed in Thailand in 2004 after 

Fatima Boudchar (pictured in Westminster today) is being handed £500,000 by the British Government as part of a settlement for rendition and torture 

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the agreement meant the Government did not have to admit any legal liability for what happened Hakim Belhaj and his wife

Prime Minister Theresa May has personally written to them both to apologise for their ‘appalling’ treatment and say Britain believes their account of rendition and torture 

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the agreement meant the Government did not have to admit any legal liability for what happened to Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar in 2004.

But Prime Minister Theresa May has personally written to them both to apologise for their ‘appalling’ treatment, Mr Wright announced in the Commons.

He said Ms Boudchar was being given £500,000 despite the Government not admitting liability. He said Mr Belhaj had never asked for money and will not receive any.

In statements issued by their lawyers, Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar said they accepted the apology from Mrs May and the Government.

In full: Theresa May’s apology over rendition of Hakim Belhaj 

Attorney General Jeremy Wright today read out the letter Theresa May had written to Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudcha.

The letter said: ‘Your accounts were moving and what happened to you is deeply troubling.

‘It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar, who was pregnant at the time.

‘The UK government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated this way.

‘The UK government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering.

‘The UK government shared information about you with its international partners.

‘We should have done more to reduce the risk that you would be mistreated.

‘We accept this was a failing on our part.’

The letter added: ‘On behalf of Her Majesty’s government, I apologise unreservedly.

‘We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.

‘The UK government has learned many lessons from this period.’

Mr Wright told MPs it was important for the security services to learn from ‘where we got things wrong’, but said they were not admitting liability in a carefully worded statement.

Mr Wright said the UK Government ‘believes’ the accounts and admitted Britain had ‘contributed’ to the appalling treatment they received.

He said: ‘We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal you suffered and our role in it.’ 

The Attorney General said he hoped the acknowledgement of what happened and the apology would ease the suffering Mr Belhaj and his wife. 

Mr Belhaj – a long-time opponent of Gaddafi – and his then-pregnant Moroccan wife claim they were kidnapped and tortured under the dictator’s regime, when Jack Straw was the UK foreign secretary. 

Following Mr Wright’s statement, Mr Belhaj said via his lawyers: ‘I welcome and accept the Prime Minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the Attorney General my thanks and sincere goodwill.’

Ms Boudchar, who was in Parliament with her son to hear Mr Wright’s statement, said: ‘I thank the British Government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the Government’s apology.’

Sapna Malik, from law firm Leigh Day, who represented Mr Belhaj and Ms Bouchar, said: ‘Today’s historic occasion is a tribute to the resilience of our clients in their quest for justice.

‘After six long years of litigation, HM Government has rightly acknowledged that, even in the fields of counter-terrorism and international relations, there are lines which must not be crossed and which were crossed here, with devastating consequences for my clients.

‘Today’s candid apology from the Government helps restore the humanity and dignity so brutally denied to my clients during their ordeal and is warmly welcomed.’

Mr Belhadj spent six years behind bars but is now a politician in Libya.

The government had gone to the Supreme Court to stop Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar suing over claims UK officials ‘assisted and arranged’ their unlawful rendition in 2004.

The couple’s action was against the Home Office and Foreign Office, while Sir Mark Allen – who was MI6’s counter-terrorism chief when they were snatched – was also named as a defendant.


Jack Straw (left) could have faced legal action by Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj (right) who claims the UK was complicit in his and his wife’s abduction and rendition to Tripoli

Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, said in 2017 that the actions taken at the time were ‘fully consistent with his legal duties’.  

He said: ‘I repeat what I said in the House of Commons in December 2013, that as foreign secretary I acted at all times in a manner which was fully consistent with my legal duties, and with national and international law.

‘I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of anyone by other states. ‘ 

He added that the judgment raised ‘some important points of law’ – including whether it is possible to bring the actions of foreign states into a court process in the UK – but that the merits ‘had not been tested before any court’.

‘That can only happen when the trial of the action itself takes place,’ he added.  

During the appeal hearing at the Supreme Court last year, the court heard how Mr Belhaj, a Libyan national and opponent of Gaddafi, and his wife had attempted to take a commercial flight from Beijing to London using fake passports.

But they were instead deported by the Chinese authorities to Kuala Lumpur where they were detained.  

It is alleged MI6 became aware of their detention and reported their whereabouts to the Libyan intelligence services, a plan which led to them being tortured in Bangkok and held against their will in Libya.

Ms Boudchar was held until June 2004 while Mr Belhaj was incarcerated for six years until March 2010.

Mr Belhaj – a leading member of the Islamist opposition to Colonel Gaddafi – and his wife have offered to settle for a token £1 from each defendant and an apology for what they suffered

The couple claim the UK was involved in ‘arranging, assisting and encouraging their unlawful rendition’.

International human rights group Reprieve and the Belhaj family say their abduction was a direct result of a joint MI6-CIA operation following the ‘deal in the desert’ in which Tony Blair’s government re-opened diplomatic links with Gaddafi.

According to Reprieve, part of the deal involved the illegal kidnapping and flying of Libyan dissidents to Tripoli.

They say cases came to light in 2011, when faxes written by Sir Mark, which described the rendition flights, were found in Libya’s intelligence headquarters. 

Giving his judgment at the Supreme Court, Lord Mance said: ‘They allege that they suffered mistreatment amounting to torture at the hands of US agents in Bangkok and in the airplane and at the hands of Libyan officials in Libya.’

The judge said the couple were relying on the letter supposedly written by Sir Mark to Mr Moussa Koussa, head of the Libyan External Security Organisation.

‘The letter congratulated Mr Moussa Koussa ‘on the safe arrival of (Mr Belhaj)’,’ said the judge.

‘It said that ‘This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years’.

‘It indicated that British intelligence had led to Mr Belhaj’s transfer to Libya, although the British services ‘did not pay for the air cargo’.’ 

Government lawyers had argued that the Belhaj claims should be barred under state immunity.

They said the foreign ‘act of state’ doctrine prohibits the courts of one country sitting in judgment on the acts of the government of another within its own territory.

The High Court agreed with the Government’s stance and ruled that the claims should be struck out.

Belhaj was allegedly transported to Libya and was tortured by forces of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi 

But Reprieve argued that the Government had already settled a related claim out of court by paying compensation to another family who were rendered to Libya in the same ‘deal in the desert’ conspiracy.

The Court of Appeal then reversed the High Court ruling.

It said the doctrine relied upon by the government might not apply to alleged breaches of international law or human rights obligations, even in cases involving the conduct of a foreign state.

The appeal judges said there was a ‘compelling public interest’ in allegations of unlawful rendition and ‘particularly grave violations of international law and human rights’ being investigated by the English courts.

UK Government lawyers then argued that the compensation claim could not be heard in a British court because it would damage relations with the US.

But the argument was dismissed by the seven justices – court president Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lady Hale and Lords Mance, Clarke, Wilson, Sumption and Hughes. 

Lord Mance said that ‘state immunity is no bar to the claims’, and the defendants had not ‘on the assumed facts shown any entitlement to rely on the doctrine of foreign act of state’.

He said: ‘The appeals are dismissed and the cases may proceed to trial.’ 

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