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Cablegate: Thug Life: Hannibal Al-Qadhafi's Arrest Prompts Fissure In

DE RUEHTRO #0592/01 2041634
O P 221634Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 7/22/2018
SWISS-LIBYAN RELATIONS TRIPOLI 00000592 001.2 OF 003 CLASSIFIED BY: John T. Godfrey, CDA, U.S. Embassy - Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: The arrest in Geneva of Hannibal al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, and his wife has prompted a serious diplomatic fissure between Switzerland and Libya, which has accused Swiss police of using unnecessary force, of having violated Hannibal's diplomatic immunity, of having violated diplomatic protocol by not granting Libyan diplomats immediate consular access to him, and of deliberately seeking to embarrass Libya because of Switzerland's "well-known" dislike of Arabs. Efforts by the Swiss government to accord Hannibal preferential treatment earned no quarter from the GOL, which has reduced the number of flights between the two countries, ceased issuing visas to Swiss citizens seeking to travel to Libya, and harassed Swiss companies in Libya. Since Hannibal's arrest a week ago, two Swiss companies have been closed on the pretext that their registration papers were not in order and one Swiss businessmen has been detained for irregularities with his residency permit. Diplomatic efforts to smooth over the incident are underway: the Swiss Foreign Minister spoke with her Libyan counterpart today, and a high-level Swiss delegation is scheduled to arrive in Tripoli tomorrow for talks aimed at restoring equilibrium to bilateral relations. The GOL's reflexive efforts to attack Swiss commercial interests and cease issuing visas to Swiss citizens underscore the extent to which the regime treats business as an extension of politics and the sensitivity of anything to do with the al-Qadhafi family. The incident also reflects the gap - perceived by some to be growing - between average Libyans, who take a dim view of the al-Qadhafi clan's embarrassing and repeated falls from grace, and a hidebound regime that sees the state as an extension of the al-Qadhafi family empire. End summary. ABUSING THE HELP 2. (C) Swiss Ambassador Daniel von Muralt gave CDA and A/RSO an extensive readout on July 22 on the recent arrest in Geneva of Hannibal al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, and the subsequent rift in Swiss-Libyan bilateral relations. Hannibal and his wife, who is nearly nine months pregnant, together with a sizeable retinue of bodyguards and assistants, were in Geneva for the delivery of their child. Two of their household staff, a Moroccan man and a Tunisian women, contacted a Swiss NGO to complain that Hannibal and his wife had physically abused them. The NGO contacted Swiss police and warrants were issued by a Swiss magistrate for the two. Swiss police informed Libyan diplomats at the Libyan missions in Geneva and Bern that they intended to take Hannibal and his wife into custody for questioning about allegations that they had physically abused their assistants and detained them illegally by confiscating their passports. (Note: Von Muralt explained that a large number of Arabs, many of them wealthy citizens of Gulf states, visit and live in Switzerland and have a reputation of abusing their domestic help. The scope of the problem is such that some Swiss NGO's essentially specialize in "rescuing" domestic help who are abused, physically and otherwise, by their well-heeled employers. End note.) HANNIBAL REFUSES TO GO QUIETLY 3. (C) Swiss police officers arrived at Hannibal's room at the Hotel President Wilson on July 15 to serve the warrants, but were told by Libyan diplomats at the hotel that Hannibal and his wife did not intend to surrender themselves into custody. After an hour and a half of fruitless negotiations, Swiss police used a hotel key to enter the room. Von Muralt said two bodyguards posted just inside the door of the suite's entryway physically attacked the Swiss officers, who subdued the bodyguards and relieved them of their concealed sidearms. The bodyguards did not have permits for the weapons. The Swiss officers, some of whom had drawn their sidearms when attacked by the two bodyguards at the entrance, then forced open the doors to the suite's bedrooms; Hannibal's wife and three year-old daughter were hiding in one and he was hiding in another with six other bodyguards and other members of his entourage. PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT ... 4. (C) Swiss officers took Hannibal's wife to a hospital, where she remained under police custody. Hannibal was taken in an armored sedan (vice a police van) to the Ministry of Justice building, where he was held in a private room July 15-17. Emphasizing the special treatment accorded to Hannibal, Von Muralt said Hannibal, a chain smoker, was allowed to smoke despite a prohibition against doing so in all Swiss public buildings. In addition, von Muralt said that although Swiss law permitted authorities to detain Hannibal incommunicado for 2-8 days, he was permitted to make a telephone call shortly after TRIPOLI 00000592 002.2 OF 003 his arrest. Swiss authorities assumed he would call his father, Muammar al-Qadhafi; however, Hannibal insisted on speaking instead with his sister, Aisha al-Qadhafi. Von Muralt said contacts close to the al-Qadhafi family told him that Hannibal has lived in fear of father since a series of incidents in which he assaulted Italian police officers in Rome (2001), attacked police in Paris after being stopped for speeding on the wrong side of the Champs Elysees while inebriated (2004) and received a four-year suspended prison sentence from a French court after beating his pregnant girlfriend, who refused to let him into their hotel room (2005). Hannibal was banned from traveling in the European Schengen zone between 2005 and 2008; he successfully obtained a visa from the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli in February 2008. ... EARNS NO QUARTER FROM AN ANGRY AISHA 5. (C) Aisha al-Qadhafi arrived in Geneva on July 17 and promptly issued a statement to the press in which she accused Swiss police of having used excessive force, and the Swiss government of discriminating against Arabs and perpetrating a "deliberate plot against the al-Qadhafi family". Aisha closed her remarks by noting that Libya's response to Hannibal's arrest would be in line with the proverb of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth", prompting speculation in the media that the GOL would retaliate against Switzerland. Noting that it would have been better had she not come, von Muralt sharply criticized Aisha's statement as "highly inaccurate" and said her attempts at mediation hurt, rather than helped, efforts to quietly resolve the incident. Eventually, Hannibal and his wife were released on bail - 200,000 Euros for Hannibal; 300,000 Euros for his wife, who is accused of perpetrating most of the alleged physical abuse - and flew from Geneva to Tripoli late on July 17 on a private aircraft, together with Aisha, six of the bodyguard cohort and various other assistants. The two bodyguards who assaulted Swiss officers and carried the unregistered handguns remain in detention in Geneva. GOL COUNTER ATTACKS ON THE DIPLOMATIC FRONT ... 6. (C) Noting that he had been officially convoked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on five different occasions since July 15, von Muralt stressed that GOL officials were more focused on mitigating damage to the al-Qadhafi family reputation and saving face than on the fact that Hannibal's behavior had been egregious. Von Muralt's primary MFA interlocutors have been the MFA U/S-equivalent for European Affairs, Abdulati Obeidi, and the MFA Secretary for Adminstrative Affairs, Muhammad Kaim. MFA officials had presented to von Muralt a series of demarches and diplomatic notes accusing the Swiss government of having used excessive force (particularly with respect to detaining Hannibal's wife), of having violated Hannibal's diplomatic immunity, of having violated diplomatic protocol by not granting Libyan diplomats immediate consular access to him, and of deliberately seeking to embarrass Libya because of its "well-known" dislike of Arabs. 7. (C) Von Muralt noted that Swiss officers had only drawn their weapons because they were physically assaulted by armed bodyguards, that Hannibal was not/not entitled to diplomatic immunity (he entered Switzerland on a diplomatic passport but was not accredited to the Swiss Government as a diplomat), that Libyan diplomats were not entitled to immediate consular access because he was not an accredited diplomat, and that Switzerland had a proud history of racial tolerance and diversity (one in five residents is a foreigner). (Note: Libyan MFA officials have insisted that Article 36 of the Vienna Conventions provides for immediate consular access; von Muralt said Switzerland's interpretation, based on international practice, was to provide access within four to six days. End note.) ... AND ATTACKS SWISS INTERESTS 8. (C) The GOL also moved swiftly to exact reprisals against Swiss interests in Libya. The Libyan People's Bureau (embassy-equivalent) in Bern ceased issuing visas to all Swiss travelers on July 17. GOL officials reduced Swiss Air's connections to Tripoli from three flights per week to one and Libya's Air Afriqiyah reduced its flights to Geneva from three flights per week to one. Swiss companies in Libya have been summoned for inspections of their registration documents and, in the case of Swiss nationals, checks of their residency permits. Two Swiss companies, ABB and Stukey Co., have been closed since July 15 for alleged irregularities in their registration papers and the Swiss national country representative for ABB has been in detention since July 19 on charges that his residency papers TRIPOLI 00000592 003.2 OF 003 were not in order. Von Muralt estimated that another 20 Swiss companies were at risk of being shuttered unless the diplomatic impasse is resolved quickly. The GOL has provided a small detachment of National Police to guard the Swiss Embassy and Residence, and has suggested to von Muralt that angry Libyans, upset by Swiss treatment of Hannibal, could stage popular demonstrations against the Swiss mission. HIGH-LEVEL NEGOTIATIONS UNDERWAY, BUT OUTCOME UNCLEAR 9. (C) Emphasizing that the Swiss government is keen to put the relationship back on an even keel, von Muralt nonetheless stressed that Switzerland "really doesn't need Libya for anything". There are 41 registered Swiss nationals in Libya, of whom 25 are dual Libyan-Swiss nationals. He suggested that while the Swiss Foreign Ministry was working to resolve the issue, there were limits to how much they were willing to concede. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey spoke by telephone with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Shalgham on July 22. Von Muralt said Shalgham insisted that Switzerland had violated the Vienna Conventions by not granting immediate consular access, but backed away from accusations by Aisha al-Qadhafi and other MFA officials that Swiss police had used undue force and that Swiss officials deliberately sought to embarrass Libya. 10. (C) A senior Swiss delegation is scheduled to travel to Tripoli on July 23 for talks to "smooth things over"; however, von Muralt noted that Hannibal and his wife are out on bail and are currently required to return to Geneva to stand trial. Should they fail to appear, the Swiss judge could issue an Interpol arrest warrant. If that were to happen, von Muralt speculated that the GOL would take "drastic measures" and the Swiss Embassy could be shuttered. Von Muralt suggested to MFA official Abdulati Obeidi on July 20 that the GOL retain good legal counsel and pursue an out-of-court settlement with the Tunisian and Moroccan who pressed the charges, which could obviate the need for Hannibal and his wife to appear before a court in Geneva. The Swiss are making contingency plans to quickly close their mission should that become necessary. The embassy has continued to operate normally since Hannibal's arrest, to include issuing visas, but may cease visa issuance if Libya does not quickly resume issuing visas to Swiss citizens. Von Muralt noted that the Swiss Embassy issues some 9,000 visas each year to Libyans. 11. (C) Comment: The GOL's reflexive efforts to attack Swiss commercial interests and cease issuing visas to Swiss citizens underscore the extent to which the regime treats business as an extension of politics and the sensitivity of anything to do with the al-Qadhafi family. Von Muralt dismissed the possibility that his mission would be threatened by angry Libyans. Noting that Switzerland is a large source of second-hand vehicles (a sizeable market in Libya) and a popular venue for medical care and banking for well-heeled Libyans, he said several non-official Libyans had privately expressed the wish that the Swiss had kept Hannibal, who is unpopular here, in custody. He also noted that the single remaining Swiss Air and Air Afriqiyah flights were booked with Libyan elites, who would not view favorably a complete cessation of direct air connections to Geneva. Hannibal's repeated falls from grace highlight the broad gulf between average Libyans, who view the al-Qadhafi family as unsophisticated upstarts from a historically inconsequential part of the country (Sirte) who routinely embarrass Libya, and senior regime officials, who view the state as an extension of the al-Qadhafi family empire. The Swedish ambassador, who is based in Tunis but accredited to Libya, told CDA on July 21 that the "deep-seated, visceral" hatred many Libyans feel for the al-Qadhafi family has grown in recent years to the point that he does not expect that one of al-Qadhafi's children will be able to succeed Muammar al-Qadhafi. He was posted in Tripoli in 1986-1990, and said the popular perception of the ruling family has deteriorated considerably since then, in part because al-Qadhafi's sons have comported themselves so poorly as they have come of age. End comment. GODFREY

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