UN expert held in Tunisia over ‘espionage’ freed on bail: sources

Moncef Kartas is a member of the UN panel of experts investigating allegations of violations of an arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Libya. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 May 2019
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UN expert held in Tunisia over ‘espionage’ freed on bail: sources

TUNIS: A United Nations arms expert held in Tunisia since late March on espionage charges was released Tuesday on bail, the prosecution service said.
Moncef Kartas is a member of the UN panel of experts investigating allegations of violations of an arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Libya.
The Tunisian-German dual national was detained on arrival in Tunis on March 26.
“The indictment division has decided to release Moncef Kartas on bail,” prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti said.
But Kartas was still being prosecuted for the “unofficial collection of information related to terrorism, which constitutes a dangerous crime,” he told AFP.
The investigation had uncovered equipment used to control civil and military air traffic and whose use “requires authorization,” he added.
Kartas’s defense team has said the charges are linked to the arms expert’s possession of a device allowing him to have access to data on flights of civil and commercial aircraft.
The device, an RTL-SDR, was used “only for monitoring air traffic to Libya, in order to identify flights that could be linked to violations of the arms embargo,” said his lawyer, Sarah Zaafrani.
Last week, the United Nations rejected Tunisia’s reasons for Kartas’s arrest and demanded charges be dropped and his immediate release.
It argued that, as a UN employee, Kartas was subject to diplomatic immunity, but Tunisia challenged this.
The UN panel investigating the alleged sanctions breaches has reported that arms and ammunition deliveries still reach warring parties in Libya — with the involvement of member states — despite the embargo.
Libya, which borders Tunisia, has seen an uptick in violence since military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on April 4 to take the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized government.
An arms embargo has been in force since Libya’s 2011 revolt that toppled its longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."