Government official Neville Gafà has been in the news over the past two weeks over a contentious trip to Libya which he claimed was for personal reasons.
The trip, during which he met Libyan government ministers and other high-level officials, was mired in controversy since Gafà is neither a diplomat nor a special envoy of the Maltese government. This despite the fact that the Libyan Interior Ministry claimed it met Gafà as “special envoy of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat” and matters such as national security and fuel smuggling were discussed.
Both Gafà and the government denied that he was in Libya on government business.
It now transpires that Gafà held one other meeting in Libya. Following reports by Times of Malta this morning, it was revealed that Gafà met with Haitham Tajouri, a notorious militia leader based in Tripoli.
Gafà at first denied meeting Tajouri, then conceded that he had bumped into him, “informally, on the street, like I can bump into anyone on the street”. Witnesses have however claimed that the meeting was more of a sit-down and some form of discussions were held.
But who is Haitham Tajouri?
Tajouri is a seasoned former army commander and current militia leader who leads the Tripoli’s Revolutionaries’ Brigade (TRB).
The TRB is Tripoli’s most powerful group and is affiliated with a few other groups in the capital. It most recently was involved in violence against the Kani Brigade, based in the Tripoli suburb of Tarhouna. The TRB is also widely believed to have been involved in the kidnapping of former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in August 2017.
Tajouri enjoys good relations with the Government of National Accord, the Tripoli-led Libyan government, and the TRB has been involved in fending off attacks on the capital city. It wields considerable influence in Tripoli and is at least nominally affiliated with the Interior Ministry of the GNA. In a country that is still under civil war, they are good or bad guys depending on which side of the fence you’re on.
But it is also true that Tajouri has been the subject of very serious allegations concerning human rights abuses and extortion. A 2016 report by the UN Security Council highlighted how Tajouri and his associates had threatened central bank officials on multiple occasions to obtain letters of credit and other facilities, to the tune of $20 million.
On a political level, Tajouri has been implicated in political kidnappings, disappearances, rape and torture. The TRB also allegedly runs several private prisons where political prisoners are detained and tortured regularly. It is also clear that Tajouri does not shy away from these allegations and operates with some degree of impunity.
All of these allegations raise questions as to the nature of Gafà’s relationship with Tajouri
Partit Demokratiku leader Godfrey Farrugia echoed this sentiment in a statement given earlier today, severely criticising Gafà and the government.
Farrugia said: “How did a member of the Castille cabal know a high-profile warlord? Why do they know each other? On whose side is the Castille cabal in the Libyan conflict: on that of international efforts to establish the rule of law in Libya or in bed with criminals whose only interest is profiting from a broken system?”