Attorney-General Al-Siddiq Al-Sour grabs the headlines for his anti-corruption purge, but critics say he’s hostage to shadowy interests.
Hardly a day goes by in Libya without the name of Al-Siddiq Al-Sour, the Attorney General, appearing in the headlines, sensationally cast as a man who goes after the corrupt and cracks down relentlessly on thieves of the public purse.
Al-Siddiq assumed his duties in May last year after being elected by the Libyan House of Representatives on 26 April at its headquarters in Tobruk in the far east of the country. The vote was unanimous from all the eight members of the judicial bodies nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council. In that sense, al-Siddiq, who had previously been rejected by the same Judicial Council, was validated for his years of service in the AG’s office where he had served as head of investigations.
The General National Congress (former parliament) appointed him to the post after Chancellor Abdul Qader Radwan retired and successfully negotiated to appoint his own replacement. On that day, Al-Siddiq informed local media that his previous rejection by the National Congress was, in effect, a reneging of the deal it had made with the Attorney General, which was bound by the laws and regulations governing the judiciary.
There have been criticisms of the Al-Siddiq as AG, the main one being a certain selectiveness in the choice of his prey. While cracking on civil servants and diplomats, charging them with financial and administrative corruption, the leaders of the armed militias continue to operate unchecked in the capital, Tripoli.
For example, he recently ordered the pre-trial detention of Mohamed Taher Siala, 80, the foreign minister of the former Government of National Accord between 2016 and 2021. The arrest in connection to an investigation that the AG’s office described as “malicious acts committed by some of the Libyan mission’s staff in Turkey”, citing the disbursement of some $2 million in “suspicious activities”.
Siala, who was arrested on his return from a recent visit to the Netherlands in which he was part of a Presidential Council delegation, was accused of failing to save and maintain public funds while he was in office.
Al-Siddiq has bet on issues of public interest, and he had previously announced that he would focus on the main issues of concern to the Libyan public, including terrorism and corruption. He was forced to admit that the justice system suffers from a lack of security, with both the headquarters and judicial officers lacking adequate physical protection.
The Attorney General has previously ignored official requests from the Administrative Control Authority, which included complaints and notifications from a number of members of the Political Dialogue Forum, to investigate the forgery of university degrees by Abdul Hamid Al Dubaiba, Chairman of the current interim Unity Government.
However, Libyans have recently raised important questions about the crimes against humanity allegedly committed by warlords and armed militia leaders in their illicit trade in human beings, weapons and drugs. They consider it a top priority to investigate extrajudicial killings.
The Attorney General finds himself in many difficult situations. Impunity is the ruling ethos. Militias and assorted armed groups are the financial and economic centres of influence, dictating the dynamic of social pressures, whether tribal or regional, and the balance of local factional power.
It is worth noting that Al-Siddiq only announced his intention to open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the abduction of former Gaddafi-era Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Ajila Masoud, 71, and hand him over to the US authorities on suspicion that he was the maker of the bomb that brought down the Lockerbie airliner. But the announcement, it now appears, was made only to placate local public opinion, offering no concrete steps toward recalling any of the officials involved in Masoud’s kidnapping three months ago from his home in Tripoli and his subsequent surrender to US authorities.
Al-Siddiq’s appearance with Abdul Salam al-Zoubi, commander of the notorious 301 Militia, infuriated Libyans, who publicly criticised him for being in the same picture as one of the men accused of being involved in Masoud’s kidnapping.
Libyans have previously criticised the AG whom they deride as “Abu Barouka”, a common Libyan expression that loosely translates to a court jester.
Al-Saddiq was not known for any political activity against the regime of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Hailing from Misrata in the western part of the country, he worked for many years in the Libyan judiciary and held the position of prosecutor in his hometown before he headed the investigation office of the Attorney General.
There are rumours that Al-Saddiq has links to the Radaa Force, one of the armed militias that leads the military scene in Tripoli. However, officials in the Deterrence Agency and the Office of the Public Prosecutor refused to comment in response to these rumours.
“For at least a year we have heard that the Attorney General locked up a minister, an ambassador, a director of a bank… but not a single one of them [has ended up] in court,” one activist said via Twitter.
Others have gone further, remarking that “the position of Attorney General has no value in Libya”, and criticising Al-Saddiq’s claim that he could not apply the law because of the presence of militias, demanding that he resign and hand over the position to someone who can give value to it.
Abderrahmane Soueheli, a former premier in Tripoli, questioned the validity of the procedures used to select and appoint the country’s Attorney General. Khaled al-Mashri, the current head of the Judicial Council, defended the measures in turn and rejected a judicial appeal Soueheli recently filed in court.
While some close associates of the deposed Mufti of Libya claim that the public prosecutor’s only aim is to win over public opinion, the AG’s pledge that no criminal will go unpunished and that all security files will remain open until investigations are completed, appears to be no more than posturing.
Amnesty International noted that officials and members of militias and armed groups responsible for committing crimes under international law enjoy almost complete judicial immunity. They mention, for example, that the AG invoked his powers to release Abdul Rahman Milad (aka Bidja), who resumed his duties as head of the Libyan Coast Guard in Al-Zawiya, citing insufficient evidence despite the fact that the latter is subject to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in June 2018 regarding his involvement in human trafficking.
In Al-Saddiq’s recollection, an armed group stormed the Attorney General’s office in Tripoli to release a suspect in a murder case.
And while the Libyans are waiting for the final agreement between the House of Representatives and the State Council resolving the question of sovereign positions, including the position of the Attorney General, the official website of the Attorney General’s Office is still devoid of anything related to the militias, contenting itself with its call to all citizens to quickly submit their complaints. A dedicated email account is available for any information, accompanied by documentary evidence, related to past crimes perpetrated by the former regime’s agents.
There is a clear division about the man’s role in Libyan political life.
While some consider him a distinguished patriot by dint of his anti-corruption crusade, others consider that this campaign is meaningless as long as its mandate does not extend to armed militias and warlords who have become the dominant political force in a country buffeted by a severe political crisis and the absence of a national army and a unified security institution.
Khaled Mahmoud is an Egyptian journalist covering political and Arab affairs. He was born in Cairo in 1966 and received a BA in Mass Communication from Cairo University in 1988. He has corresponded for several Arabic newspapers in the Middle East.