Belgium said Saturday it has agreed to host Ivory Coast ex-president Laurent Gbagbo pending a possible appeal against his acquittal by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.
On January 15, the tribunal acquitted Gbagbo and his aide, Charles Ble Goude, on charges stemming from a wave of violence after disputed elections in the west African nation in 2010.
The following day, the court ruled there were no exceptional circumstances preventing the pair’s release from detention in The Hague, and said they could be sent to a member country willing to accept them.
“In response to a request from the International Criminal Court, Belgium has agreed to take in Laurent Gbagbo,” foreign ministry spokesman Karl Lagatie told AFP, also citing the 73-year-old ex-leader’s “family ties” to the country.
According to the Belgian press, one of Gbagbo’s wives, 47-year-old Nady Bamba, lives there.
Prosecutors can still appeal the January 15 acquittal, but said in a statement Friday it was awaiting the court’s written judgment before deciding how to proceed.
“Only after we have had the opportunity to carefully examine and analyse their reasoning will my office make a decision on whether to appeal,” said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Ble Goude’s lawyer said on Saturday his client was still “waiting” on a host country to declare itself willing to take him in.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude went on trial in January 2016 accused of playing a role in murder, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts during the post-election violence.
More than 3,000 people died on both sides of the Ivory Coast conflict after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to his internationally backed-rival — and now-president — Alassane Ouattara.
Prosecutors have expressed fears that if freed, Gbagbo would not return to the court for a retrial if his acquittal is overturned on appeal.
The release conditions include that he surrender his travel documents, report to authorities weekly, avoid contacting witnesses in Ivory Coast, and refrain from making public statements about the case, the court documents said.
Gbagbo, was the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC.
He had been held in the Netherlands since 2011.
The ICC’s unwillingness to let Gbagbo return to Ivory Coast could be linked to that country’s refusal to surrender Gbagbo’s wife, Simone, despite an outstanding ICC warrant for her arrest for her role in the violence.
She was convicted and jailed by the courts there in 2015, but Ouattara granted her an amnesty last year, to allow her release after seven years in detention.
Gbagbo’s release comes at a particularly tense time in Ivory Coast.
With presidential elections due in 2020, Ouattara has not said whether he will seek a second term, and the coalition he formed with Henri Konan Bedie, his former ally against Gbagbo, has collapsed.