The case against the Bulgarian nurses accused of injecting more than 400 children with HIV has resurfaced lately after the French newspaper Mediapart published what it claims are part of the diaries of  Gaddafi’s former prime minister and oil minister, Shukri Ghanem. Ghanem defected in 2011 and was found dead in 2o12 in Vienna.

The case against the Bulgarian nurses accused of injecting more than 400 children with HIV has resurfaced lately after the French newspaper Mediapart published what it claims are part of the diaries of  Gaddafi’s former prime minister and oil minister, Shukri Ghanem. Ghanem defected in 2011 and was found dead in 2o12 in Vienna.

According to the alleged Ghanem diaries, Libyan Ghaddafi regime officials, namely Abdulla Al-Sanoosi – head of the intelligence services – and Musa Kosa, foreign minister, injected the children themselves. The new evidence, stated in the testimony of Mohammad Al-Khaddar, military prosecutor at the time, exonerates the nurses.

One of the nurses announced that she will fight for compensation from the Libyan state. She was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence however was suspended by the Libyan state who later pardoned the accused and handed them over to their country, where they were also pardoned.

Correspondents spoke to Judge and Public Prosecutor Ibraheem Bu Shnaf, who first investigated the case, about the authenticity of the diaries, the claims therein, and the nurses’ claims to compensation.

Who was on the committee that investigated the case?

The investigation committee consisted of official forensic experts. The internal and external security agencies did not join the investigation until later, when a British citizen was accused in the case and fled – or was smuggled- out of the country. It was believed then that this person was behind the plot; therefore, chosen members of the secret services had to join the investigation to collect information about him and then the committee was joined by other chosen members from the public prosecutor’s office.

How did trial procede?

The case was opened in 1998 against a Palestinian doctor and a Bulgarian doctor and a number of Bulgarian nurses. They were accused of injecting more than 400 children in Benghazi Pediatric Hospital with the HIV virus. The trial ran for a number of sessions: all of these sessions provided the conditions of a fair trial. We heard the arguments of both the accusing authorities and the defendants. The Bulgarian defense lawyer Vladimir Sheitano demanded to be in attendance at the trial and that opportunity was provided to him. And soon after he demanded a re-interrogation, which violates the law, but the court nonetheless considered his request and granted it.

To that end, a session was scheduled soon after and it started at 9:00 am and ended at 5:00 pm. This session was attended by the defendants, the defense lawyers, European ambassadors including the British and the Bulgarian ambassadors, the Bulgarian news agency, and a number of other international news agencies. Back then, the defense could not disprove their guilt, rather it confirmed it, especially when the accused ,who was the husband of Kristyana, the main person charged, confessed that he brought the HIV contaminated plasma bottles. He said back then, the hospital, that belonged to the Korean company Dong Ah, where he worked in Libya had a shortage of the material. Moreover, the charges where further confirmed when the nurse Valya said that she was told to inject the children by Kristyana.

Furthermore, the court brought forth a French expert who discovered the virus, Dr. Luc Montagnier, who testified that the injections were deliberate and that a number of the children were injected more than once with more than one sort of the virus. The case was presented to more than one judicial body. The case was soon appealed at the Supreme Court, who saw sufficient evidence to uphold the sentences. The accused were given a death sentence by all the courts.

How was the sentence then reduced from death to life imprisonment?

Libyan law states that the death penalty can be reduced to a life imprisonment sentence if a reconciliation agreement that includes financial compensation was reached between the murderer and the family of the victim. This is what happened in that case, a financial compensation (called Diia in Arabic, only used in the context of murder) was paid to the families of the victims to spare the lives of the nurses.

Does the state have a legal right to grant a special or general pardon?

Yes, but not in death penalty cases, only after the sentence was reduced from death to life in prison, did the state have the right to pardon them. This legislation has been effective in Libya since 1955.

There has been speculations about the motives behind the crime. What do you think these motives were?

Although this is an important issue, the court did not inquire about the motives. A court is concerned with accusations and whether the accused is proven guilty. However, I think here I should mention Abdullah Al-Maghribi, the father of one of the children and the lawyer representing the children’s families. He said that the children were injected with a genetically modified lab-made virus and that the accused were secretly running experiments on the children.

What is now being said is an attempt to blackmail the Libyan state. Here I should ask: why should we allow them to blackmail us with a case where we know who the perpetrator is and where the court has said its final word?

Today, after the publication of Shukri Ghanem’s diaries, do the Bulgarian nurses have the right to compensation?

The diaries of Shukri Ghanem were not published in the press and we need to first verify that these diaries are actually Shukri Ghanem’s. Second, the law states that no accused can claim compensation, if they were sentenced to death more than once. Because the verdict in such a case is considered to be conclusive, not only final. Moreover, I should mention here that the Bulgarian authorities confirmed the verdict of the Libyan court. Back then, the Bulgarian president pardoned the nurses and a pardon can only be given to a party found guilty, not to one accused.

Unfortunately, they may issue a special law to that effect the way the United States did lately when it issued a law to suit Saudis. And we may find people who have grievances against the former regime supporting such claims. This has precedent in the case of Goldman Sachs. Back then, Libya lost the case because some of the foreign investment officials pointed their fingers at the former regime.

The French newspaper Mediapart said that according to diaries the patients were transported for 1000 kilometers from Tajura to Benghazi. Do you believe these claims to be reasonable?

I will not comment on what the French newspaper said. The newspaper may have had its own reasons to post the story. If Sarkozy runs for office, this newspaper may publish the diaries of Ghanem in which he says that Gaddafi financed Sarkozy’s campaign. However, what saddens me is that a respectable Libyan newspaper published the story without verifying its source. It could not be possible that Al-Sanoosi and Kosa themselves injected the children with HIV. Did they not have men to do it for them?! Is it possible that they injected children in Tajura and carried them to Benghazi without them knowing?! Unfortunately, this disrespects the reader, both in Libya and outside.

The French newspaper linked the crime to the two Libyan higher officials based on the what was said by Muhammad Al-Khaddar, a member of the investigation committee. Who is Mohammad Al-Khaddar and did he have the power to take this information from Al-Sanoosi?

At that time, Al-Khaddar was the military prosecutor. He is a friend and I know him to be an honest and professional person, and I doubt that these statements were given by him. Moreover, he could not have said such things because of his sensitive position. He was only assigned that position because the regime had a great trust in him, aside of that, he was a friend of Abdullah Al-Sanoosi and he could not have said something like this about him. Al-Khaddar is a rational person and he could not have uttered such a nonsense about Libyan officials themselves injecting children in tajura and transporting them to Benghazi.

In your opinion, who would benefit from bringing the case up today?

I cannot tell for sure, but this may be some sort of a political battle going on outside of Libya, and the plotters may need the issue to be brought up. As for Shukri Ghanem and the story of the Philippine maid who stole his diaries and published it, the story sounded to me somewhat intriguing; why now? However, before the end of the month, something will come up to show the truth behind the story.

The former Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Shalgam commented on the subject, saying that the case was closed both legally and politically and that Libyan officials must review the files in the Foreign Ministry. How do you comment on these statements?

These are reasonable comments suitable to the position and experience of former minister Shalgam. Legally, the case was closed when compensation was accepted by the victims and the sentence was reduced to life in prison and then to a pardon. And politically, the case was closed when compensation for the victims was paid by Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Qatar and not by the Libyan government. Then European pressure was lifted from Libya, hence the visit Sarkozy made to Libya one day after the nurses went back to their country.

Unfortunately, the Libyan governments may have not yet heard about the issue because they are busy with other things, or maybe they do not mind the prospects of case because it is connected to the former regime, or maybe they are waiting for each other to respond. However, our view on the issue is based on the historical record, on the truth and on Libyan law. Libya is not in a position to endure more losses.