Libya to Release Russians Charged With Vote Meddling

Libya’s internationally recognized government has agreed to release two Russian political operatives who’ve been jailed for more than a year, officials said, signaling a detente with Moscow, which had backed a rival in a devastating civil war.

The deal between Tripoli and Moscow was reached last week, four officials with knowledge of the negotiations told Bloomberg. The prisoners could be sent to Moscow within days, two of the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement isn’t yet public.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in a text message, “contacts on this issue have become more active but it’s early yet to talk about any results.”

Libyan authorities detained Maxim Shugaley and Samir Seifan, both Russian citizens, in May 2019 while they were working with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of ousted leader Moammar al Qaddafi, to help engineer his return through eventual elections. Prosecutors accused them of election meddling on behalf of Moscow, jailing them pending trial. The Moscow-based company that sent them to Libya denied the charges.

Russian officials had set their release as a condition for improving ties with the Tripoli government, which enjoyed military backing from Turkey during the war.

The accord follows a cease-fire reached earlier this month between the Tripoli government and Khalifa Haftar, whose military campaign to take over the capital failed earlier this year. The war drew in intervention by Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as thousands of Russian and Syrian mercenaries. The cease-fire calls for all foreign forces to leave the country within 90 days.

Libya’s prosecutor couldn’t be reached after business hours.

The two detained Russians were employed by the Foundation for the Defense of National Values. The Moscow-based organization is part of a media group that the U.S. government linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a tycoon with close ties to the Kremlin. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Prigozhin and has accused him of election meddling, while the European Union placed restrictions on him for violating the arms embargo on Libya.

Foundation head Alexander Malkevich, who is also subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged election meddling, issued a statement Monday saying the two men had been transferred to Turkish custody in Libya and said chances of their release had increased.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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