Iraq: Ex-deputy PM is innocent, says defence lawyer

Rome, 29 April (AKI) - Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, charged with the execution of 40 merchants in 1992 is completely innocent, one of his defence lawyers said on Tuesday.

Giovanni di Stefano told Adnkronos International (AKI) that 72-year-old Aziz was guilty of no crime and was being denied a fair trial in Iraq.

The trial of Aziz and seven other former members of Saddam Hussein's regime allegedly involved in the 1992 executions opened in Baghdad late Tuesday.

But the trial was reportedly been postponed until 20 May soon after it began.

One of the accused is Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali who is on death row after being convicted last year of the genocide of thousands of Iraqi Kurdish civilians in the 1980s.

"Aziz is not guilty of any offence whatsoever," Di Stefano told AKI from his Rome office. "He wasn't even around, he wasn't even in the country."

"He will be freed, he will be released. I expect him to be acquitted."

Di Stefano, who was also part of former president Saddam Hussein's legal team before his execution in December 2006, questioned the legal process in relation to the charges faced by Aziz.

"No lawyer has received any notification of any court hearings," Di Stefano said.

"I have never received any charge, indictment or a single piece of paper relating to this or any other allegation facing Aziz."

He said Judge Rahman, the presiding judge, was a very "decent man", but that it was "indecent" in the way he applied the law.

Di Stefano, one of several lawyers in Aziz's defence team, said he spoke to his client last week and he was in good spirits. But he said he had now been imprisoned for five years.

"This man is not fit to be detained," Di Stefano told AKI. "I have written to the Iraqi central criminal court objecting to any hearing without proper notification and access to documents in accordance with their own laws and statutes."

"We have never been served a document, we have never had any indictment."

Di Stefano said he was having "open dialogue" with the Iraqi government and expected his client to be freed to join his family who were given safe passage to Jordan after Aziz surrendered to US forces in Baghdad in 2003.

Meanwhile, the French priest Jean-Marie Benjamin, a friend of Aziz, criticised the legal process and called for justice.

"It is not a a trial but a mockery: for five years they have been looking for a charge against Tariq Aziz and they have found nothing," Benjamin said.

Benjamin rejected the serious charges against his friend.

"No decision of that kind could have been taken by a deputy premier, " he said.

He has written to French president Nicolas Sarkozy asking him to denounce the charges but said he had received no response.


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