The UK Government spent £11m of taxpayer money fighting lawsuits filed by Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar over its role in their kidnap and rendition to torture, it’s been revealed.
Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar were kidnapped by the CIA with the help of British intelligence in 2004, before being tortured in CIA custody. The couple were subsequently rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya. Ms Boudchar was five months pregnant at the time. In a fax discovered at the headquarters of Libyan intelligence following Gaddafi’s fall, former MI6 head of counter-terrorism officer Sir Mark Allen congratulated Mr Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Mr Belhaj and claimed that the intelligence about Mr Belhaj “was British”.
According to The Guardian, The Government Legal Department (GLD), which works closely with the Attorney General’s Office, was asked: ‘How much have you paid out in legal costs and disbursements to your lawyers and theirs for both cases [the apology/compensation claim and the refusal to prosecute an MI6 official]?’
The GLD replied: “Total legal costs for [the government] were £4,411,147.20, of which £2,849,522.17 were disbursements. The legal costs paid to lawyers for Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar were £6,995,007.23.
“It is not possible to provide further details in relation to this second figure, as [Her Majesty’s Government] negotiated some of these costs without having received a breakdown between fees and disbursements.”
Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar launched legal action against the British Government in 2011, offering to settle the case for £3, an admission of liability, and an apology. The lawsuit was eventually settled with a public apology from Prime Minister Theresa May, delivered in Parliament in May 2018 by then-Attorney General, Jeremy Wright.
Reprieve Deputy Director Katie Taylor said: “Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were willing to settle for an apology, but rather than admit Britain’s role in their rendition, the Government resisted coming clean for years—at astronomical cost to the taxpayer.
This failed cover-up shows the need for a judge-led inquiry into British complicity in torture. If the Prime Minister has truly learned her lesson, as she wrote in her apology to the couple, she surely understands this is the only way to draw a line under this shameful era and prevent further ‘war on terror’ abuses.”