The Ocampo Affair A Former ICC Chief's Dubious Links

Luis Moreno Ocampo hunted the world's worst war criminals and brought them to trial at the International Criminal Court. But internal documents show that he allowed himself to be exploited by a Libyan to protect him from investigation and that he took money from the billionaire.
Luis Gabriel Moreno Ocampo, Argentine lawyer and the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

Luis Gabriel Moreno Ocampo, Argentine lawyer and the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

Foto: Andrea Artz/DER SPIEGEL

Luis Moreno Ocampo was wearing a shiny black academic gown when he took the oath as the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Peace Palace in The Hague. He looked attractive, determined and sophisticated, like George Clooney playing the role of a law professor, when he raised his hand on June 16, 2003, solemnly swearing "to perform my duties in an honorable fashion and never to abuse my power as chief prosecutor."

The genocide in Rwanda and the massacre in Srebrenica had highlighted the need for a permanent international judiciary, and prompted the international community to approve the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The aim was to ensure that no war criminal would feel safe anymore, and to provide justice for the victims of bloody conflicts. Then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the ICC as a "giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights." This was the hope Ocampo was to embody.

The Argentine lawyer seemed the perfect choice. As a public prosecutor in the 1980s, he had made a name for himself in trials against commanders in the former military junta. He later specialized in human rights cases and fighting corruption. It was his resume that left no doubt that Ocampo possessed the necessary stature to fulfill the role of the world's conscience.

It was the role of his life. During his nine-year term as chief prosecutor in The Hague, he ran an office with 300 employees whose job was to hunt down the world's worst villains. Ocampo conducted investigations in war zones, issued arrest warrants against heads of government, and spoke with business leaders, politicians and film stars like Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie, who all wanted to be associated with him. He was often accompanied on his trips by documentary filmmakers. The chief prosecutor was a person who fascinated others, a man who seemed to personify the longing for justice and morality.

A Deceptive Image

But this image the public formed of Ocampo was deceptive, according to tens of thousands of previously unknown documents, including internal documents from the ICC, contracts, diplomatic dispatches, bank records and emails. The documents were obtained by Mediapart, a French investigative website, and a DER SPIEGEL team analyzed them together with its partners within the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) reporting network.

The documents paint a picture of a chief prosecutor who is compliant, craves attention, accepts conflicts of interest and apparently has a problem with money. For years Ocampo, a self-avowed champion for transparency, owned companies in several tax havens.

But weighing heavy on Ocampo is a deal he entered into near the end of his term. He was apparently to be paid $3 million (2.55 million euros) to advise Hassan Tatanaki, a dubious Libyan oil billionaire and former supporter of the Gadhafi regime who is deeply involved in the Libyan civil war. Ocampo even used insider information to protect his client from possible prosecution by the ICC. In doing so, one could argue, he betrayed the ideals and spirit of the court.

According to the ICC's statutes, its judges must be "of high moral character" and may not "engage in any activity which is likely to …affect confidence in their independence." But this confidence has been shaken by the documents that have now become accessible. Not only do they cast a shadow on Ocampo, but also on the court in The Hague, which was founded as the triumph of morality over crime.

How does Ocampo respond to these accusations? When he met with two DER SPIEGEL reporters in a London boutique hotel on Sept. 25, he didn't come across as a person plagued by serious self-doubt. He had breakfast with an employee, posed for the photographer and suggested taking a walk in nearby Hyde Park to see the pretty fall foliage.

His businesses are doing well. Ocampo owns a consulting firm in New York, is writing a book about the ICC and serves as a senior fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University. He has an afternoon appointment with tobacco giant Philip Morris, which he is advising in its fight against cigarette smuggling. Venezuela is currently his biggest project. Ocampo has been asked by the Organization of American States to investigate whether crimes against humanity were committed under the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. He has appeared regularly in the media since then.

He likes to talk about his projects and successes, but isn't as fond of answering critical questions. Ocampo seems surprised by the accusations and says: "I never did something wrong because I am very careful. I don't like to work on things that are awful. I reject cases for million dollars if I don't like the case. I believe in my career, fighting people committing crimes from power."

Internal Criticism

When Ocampo began working in The Hague, his outsized ego was still an asset. He injected momentum into the new institution and energetically got to work. He investigated Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. In 2005, the UN Security Council commissioned the ICC to investigate possible genocide in Darfur. But it soon became apparent that while Ocampo embarked on many projects and loved making big appearances, he had trouble concluding his cases in ways that were legally watertight. He relied on anonymous witnesses in the trial against Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, and the case almost fell apart twice.

There was no lack of internal criticism, and experienced legal experts left the court. In 2012, after the end of Ocampo's term in office, German international law expert Hans-Peter Kaul, who served as a judge in The Hague for many years, said: "He presented us with problematic witnesses who had nothing to contribute and knew nothing. In addition, the legal argumentation was often tenuous." According to Kaul, Ocampo ran his department "like an Argentine land baron."

But then the Arab spring began -- and possibly Ocampo's most important case. On Feb. 26, 2011, the UN Security Council assigned him the task of investigating war crimes in Libya.

The prospect of gaining access to witnesses and evidence would never be greater than in the days after the conflict began. But once again, Ocampo was not overly interested in the details. And as he had done elsewhere, he missed the opportunity to conduct an on-site investigation.

According to the internal documents, one of his investigators argued in favor of traveling to Libya. "It is necessary to investigate at the crime scene, in order to obtain forensic and documentary evidence," the man said in an internal meeting on March 8. But Ocampo was opposed to the idea. "We should focus on what other parties can produce for us," he said. By others he meant journalists and defectors.

High-profile appearances on the world stage were apparently more important than detailed forensic work and the arduous collection and examination of evidence.

Ignoring His Own Rule

The documents also show that he was not impartial, even though he still says today that investigators "should not manage the political scenarios," which he calls "the job of politicians." In the case of Libya, however, he ignored this rule.

On April 6, shortly after France, Britain, the United States and other countries had begun their airstrikes against the regime of then Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Ocampo talked to the cabinet chief of the French foreign minister on the phone to tell him about the investigations that were underway, a classified embassy dispatch notes. Ocampo revealed that he intended to prosecute "Gadhafi, one or two of his sons and three or four Libyan dignitaries." This is the kind of information that the court should not share with anyone -- but especially not with a party to a conflict. The names of the accused were soon leaked to the media, so that they were now forewarned.

In the dispatch, the French officials wrote a sentence that could prove devastating for Ocampo: "The prosecutor clearly conceives his function not as an independent prosecutor's office, but as a judicial body in accordance with the instructions of the Security Council of the United Nations."

Back in London, as the conversation continues, the questions become more critical and Ocampo more restless, nervously rubbing the paper coaster for his water glass between his fingers. He denies having spoken with French and British officials about whose instructions he would or would not pursue. He dismisses the accusation as "absolutely a lie."

Helping To Justify the West's Intervention

But the documents are clear. In a letter to the British ambassador in The Hague, dated April 6, 2011, Ocampo wrote that he viewed Gadhafi's last foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, at this stage "as a cooperating witness rather than a suspect to be charged." Ocampo's correspondence shows that he made agreements with the French and the British, and behaved as part of the anti-Gadhafi coalition. By not separating politics and justice, however, he committed a serious mistake for a lawyer.

A Gadhafi posted in 2011: The end of a dictator

A Gadhafi posted in 2011: The end of a dictator


He quickly delivered the desired results. On May 16, three months after the investigations began, he applied for arrest warrants against Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi. None of these arrest warrants was ever executed. Gadhafi was killed, his son was captured by a militia and Senussi flew to Mauritania. Nevertheless, the warrants did serve a purpose, by helping to justify the West's intervention in Libya.

Ocampo traveled to Libya in November 2011. Under a deep blue sky, his convoy drove past ruins to a hotel where he was greeted by the microphones of BBC and CNN reporters. Ocampo behaved like a liberator, like the person who had saved Libya from a worse fate. In reality, the killing had only just begun.

Prosecuter Ocampo during a session about Libya at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in June 2011: "We had to fix Libya."

Prosecuter Ocampo during a session about Libya at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in June 2011: "We had to fix Libya."

Foto: Robert Vos / Pool/ picture alliance / dpa

Ocampo's term in office ended in the summer of 2012. At his farewell gala, Angelina Jolie said in a flattering video message that Prosecutor Ocampo "has made tremendous progress in the promotion of international justice. I visited him several times in The Hague. He has given a voice to the voiceless."

In a sober light, his record was by no means that glorious. Thirty arrest warrants, but only a single verdict. And the Libya intervention, which Ocampo supported, would split the country and turn it into a republic of warlords. Perhaps he cannot be blamed for misjudging the situation at the time, and he wasn't the only one. But he has made the ICC a pawn of political interests with his activism.

'Making Money'

Ocampo didn't seem to waste much time thinking about the past as he looked forward to a future in which he intended to turn his connections into profits. He became an advisor to the World Bank and, as he wrote to Kofi Annan in an email, he planned on "making money" as an attorney with the New York law firm of Getnick & Getnick.

The years with the ICC were full of deprivation for the Argentinian, who likes to stay in nice hotels and fly first class. He made a very good living as an attorney in Buenos Aires, and he earned an annual salary of about 200,000 euros as chief prosecutor at the ICC. But it wasn't enough, Ocampo says in London. "I spend my own savings" to cover the cost of living in The Hague, he adds.

He accepts two types of jobs today, he says: pro bono cases -- that is, unpaid but morally valuable cases -- and paid cases. The regular clients pay for the pro bono work, which is why he is "very expensive," as he explains it.

Beginning in 2015, one of his well-paying clients was Libyan businessman Hassan Tatanaki.

The contact was established through a niece of Tatanaki, who Ocampo had met in conjunction with a film project about Libya. "I briefly discussed your interest in Libya and the documentary with my uncle, Hassan Tatanaki," she wrote to Ocampo. "Hassan mentioned to me that given the tense situation in Libya they would love to talk to you about examining the potential of taking broader actions."

Tatanaki is a well-known man, not just in Libya. In addition to construction companies and TV stations, he has owned an oil company registered on the Isle of Man, a tax haven, since the early 1990s. Until the rebellion, Tatanaki was part of Gadhafi's circle. One of his ventures was a tourism project in the ancient city of Cyrene, which he was planning with Saif al-Islam. In the United States, Tatanaki paid a lot of money to a PR firm to provide Gadhafi with access to the establishment.

After the revolution, however, Tatanaki supported General Khalifa Haftar, the new strongman in eastern Libya, and a warlord who had long thwarted all attempts at negotiation between the warring parties. Tatanaki and Haftar had a common enemy, the Islamists, and a common goal: to secure the oil business. The general's heavily armed troops were brutal and relentless, and by 2015 there were already suspicions that war crimes may have been committed. In other words, Haftar is not the kind of person the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court should be associated with.

Soldiers from the Libyan National Army, led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar

Soldiers from the Libyan National Army, led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar


But Ocampo became involved with Tatanaki nevertheless. His task was to help the oil billionaire bring his rivals to justice. Tatanaki called his organization Justice First. It was established to implement a sort of private parallel justice system, and Ocampo was hired to advise Tatanaki. In two meetings that took place in Abu Dhabi in the spring of 2015, a plan was developed to take action against terrorists and turn over the results to local courts and the ICC in The Hague.

But that was only part of the deal. According to a strategy document, the goal of Justice First was to protect Tatanaki "from legal action." It's a passage in which Ocampo agreed to work against the ICC if necessary.

The conversation in London becomes uncomfortable when it turns to Tatanaki. "We had to fix Libya," Ocampo repeats several times in the hotel lobby, filled with English antiques. He is "shocked" that the reporters are unwilling to see the "real issue" and remain stuck on "details." The paper coaster in his hands is beginning to come apart.

On April 25, 2015, Ocampo signed a three-year consulting contract worth $3 million. Tatanaki was to transfer the fee to Ocampo's company in Uruguay, Transparent Markets, which was apparently not much more than a letterbox firm in Montevideo. According to the documents, Ocampo's family had already owned offshore companies  in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Belize in the past.

Ocampo apparently sensed that Tatanaki was not a case like any other. In an email to his wife before a meeting with the oil billionaire, he wrote: "I hope everything goes well. I wonder which impact this will have on our life."

'Some Concerning Things'

In the end, however, he was pleased about all the money he was going to make, which he said would give him "freedom and tranquility." In the email to this wife, he wrote that he was going to receive $1.5 million from Tatanaki this year alone.

In May 2015, Ocampo revealed publicly that he was working for Tatanaki. He appeared on CNN with a statesmanlike demeanor, but when pressed he found it difficult to explain the actual purpose of his work for the man. Perhaps Ocampo already sensed that he had made a mistake. On May 12, a few days before his appearance on CNN, his successor Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council about her concern that "indiscriminate attacks" in cities like Benghazi and Tripoli had claimed civilian casualties. She announced that she intended to investigate these incidents, and she expressly mentioned the offensives conducted by General Haftar.

Soon afterward, an employee of Ocampo, who had also worked for him at the ICC, wrote an alarmed email. Like Ocampo, she still had close connections in The Hague. In the email, she forwarded messages from a Libya investigator in Bensouda's office, which indicated that the prosecutor had learned "some concerning things about Tatanaki." Among other things, the investigator wrote that a commander of Haftar's air force had recently said on Tatanaki's TV channel Libya Awalan TV that anyone who was not fighting on Haftar's side should be "slaughtered as traitors."

On the same day, in an email with the subject line "Tatanaki/Libya," the Libya investigator told Ocampo directly about the statement on the Libyan TV station. She also informed him that there was a wiretapped telephone conversation with Saif al-Islam on YouTube. The conversation had apparently taken place in the spring of 2011, after the fall of Benghazi. It suggests that Tatanaki was "still working" with the old regime until then and was "doing his job to support the regime." She sent Ocampo the links and wrote: "I thought you should know."

Was she allowed to do this? The Office of the Prosecutor has a particularly strict code of conduct, which expressly forbids employees from passing on sensitive information. When questioned about the email, the former investigator denies all accusations.

Map: ICC investigations around the world

Map: ICC investigations around the world


In 2015, Ocampo's team quickly reached the conclusion that Bensouda could also investigate Tatanaki. His employee wrote that it was possible that the chief prosecutor could not only investigate "military commanders," but also civilians who supported the warring parties. She reminded Ocampo of the special tribunal for Rwanda, which had sentenced the owners of two radio stations to long prison terms, because their stations had been used to issue calls to commit genocide.

Ocampo took action by trying to protect his client from investigations. In an email to a Tatanaki employee, he proposed, first, that Tatanaki should ensure that Haftar's army "is neither committing" nor "inciting to commit crimes." Second, he pointed out that "it should be impossible to conclude that Hassan and his channels are supporting crimes." And third, he wrote, "I would suggest to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that Hassan and the forces he is supporting are not the target of ICC prosecutions."

This was the core of Ocampo's defense strategy. His aim was to "isolate" the billionaire, as he put it. There could be no direct connection to General Haftar.

On June 6, Tatanaki's staff informed Ocampo that the first tranche of $750,000 had been transferred to Ocampo's account. A few days later, Ocampo prepared a meeting with Tatanaki at the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague. According to the documents, the woman who had warned Ocampo - the Libya investigator at the ICC - also planned to attend the meeting. Florence Olara, the press spokeswoman in the office of the chief prosecutor, who still works there today, was also among the intended participants. Ocampo denies that such a meeting took place, and yet he wrote in an email at the time that a car had to be sent to pick up Olara. Soon afterwards, Olara wrote a favorable, brief portrait of Tatanaki, which was to be disseminated in social media. This too could be a violation of the code of conduct. Olara denies all accusations as "false and untrue."

When contacted for comment, Bensouda stated that this was the "first time" she had heard that current and former employees of her office had worked for Ocampo or passed on internal information to him. She has announced an investigation.

It is still unclear how deeply Bensouda looked into the actions of Tatanaki and General Haftar. But the chief prosecutor did recently issue an arrest warrant against one of Haftar's commanders. The commander, Mahmud al-Werfalli, allegedly executed defenseless prisoners in 33 known cases. The evidence includes videos in which al-Werfalli is celebrated for his actions.


The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 40/2017 (September 30th, 2017) of DER SPIEGEL.

The table is now littered with the crumbled remains of the paper coaster, as Ocampo nervously taps his knees together. He confirms that he signed the $3-million contract with Tatanaki. However, he says, he was paid no more than the $750,000 and only worked with Tatanaki for one year, or "just three months basically." He is unwilling to reveal why the assignment ended.

Unwilling To Recognize the Damage

Ocampo doesn't understand what it is that he has supposedly done wrong. He says that he warned Tatanaki about Haftar, telling him to avoid being too closely associated with the general, "or else you could be indicted." At the end of the conversation, he says: "What I did was not just legal, but also right. Helping Tatanaki was a good idea."

Three days after the interview took place, DER SPIEGEL received a letter from Ocampo's attorney. He wrote that his client attaches great importance to the statement that his consulting services for Tatanaki were "unconnected to the work he undertook as ICC presecutor in 2011."

In London, Ocampo's longtime employee is sitting next to him, smiling occasionally when the conversation turns to Justice First. But more than two years ago, on June 4, 2015, she wrote in an email to Ocampo, on the subject of Tatanaki: "He is seen as backing one political side, backing Haftar and backing violence as a solution to the political situation. No one seems to trust him because he is so rich and was close as well to Gaddafi, even if it was to protect his business interests. There are some strange things on the TV channel. And now everyone thinks that Ocampo has taken a side in the Libya conflict, and by extension, the ICC."

The former chief prosecutor cannot, or is unwilling to, recognize the damage he has caused. His former employee, however, assessed the situation correctly at a very early stage.

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