Terror Suspect Will Keep His Attorney
MANHATTAN (CN) - Despite a judge's warning that the Libyan government figures funding his defense could "possibly" have a $5 million stake in his conviction, an alleged plotter in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa decided to stand by his lawyer, at a hearing on Wednesday.
Since July, prosecutors seeking the terrorism conviction of Libyan Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi, have scrutinized how his lawyer Bernard Kleinman has been collecting paychecks for his legal defense.
His client al-Libi is accused of photographing the targets of simultaneous al-Qaida bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured thousands in 1998. He will stand trial with two of his alleged accomplices, Khalid al Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary, on Nov. 3.
Over the last few months, court hearings have focused less on the evidence to be presented at trial than the Libyan government donors underwriting al-Libi's legal defense.
Such funding raised eyebrows because the Libyan government reportedly approved of the U.S. Delta Force operation that led to al-Libi's capture in his Tripoli home last year.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan forced Kleinman to disclose the names of these backers earlier this summer and slated two hearings to probe the matter.
Arnold Levine, a third-party lawyer appointed to inform al-Libi of a potential conflict of interest, appeared in court on Wednesday with a new revelation. The U.S. State Department's Reward for Justice program promised $5 million for information leading to al-Libi's conviction, and it is unclear whether any of the donors whose names Kleinman disclosed are eligible to collect it, he said.
Kaplan warned al-Libi that it is "possible" that his lawyer's financial backers "would like to see you convicted."
Responding through an interpreter, al-Libi explained that he understood the risks and would continue with his current counsel rather than start anew with Levine.
"Thank you, Your Honor, for your explanation and also Mr. Levine's explanation," he said. "The judge has explained it to me three times already, which is good. It gives me some understanding."
Al-Libi also summarized his conversations with Levine.
Referring to the donors, al-Libi noted: "They could be interested in abstracting the truth as to who actually committed the crime."
Nevertheless, he finished his statement with the disclaimer that "we are discussing just possibilities."
He then agreed to waive any appeal based on a conflict of interest in order to continue his representation by Kleinman.
Kaplan accepted the decision as that of an "entirely competent" and "educated man," who worked as an engineer.
Al-Libi, who reportedly has liver cancer, appeared gaunt and bald with a fulsome beard. He had to leave court before the hearing concluded, complaining of a sudden pain that made him clutch his arm and wince in pain. Mashals escorted him to see a nurse in the building, and he did not return.
His co-defendant al Fawwaz appeared far sturdier and healthier in the courtroom, and the third alleged accomplice Bary was not in court.
Kaplan denied their motions to stand their trials separately from each other without any oral argument.
"There will be one trial with one jury," he said.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the United Kingdom appeared in court to address discovery requests by al Fawwaz and Bary's legal defense.
Kaplan had requested British assistance in fact-finding involving intelligence outfits like MI5 and the securing of reluctant witnesses in a February ruling.
Proceedings ended on Wednesday with those requests being argued in classified session.