By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya will not send Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the most prominent son of the country's former leader, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, but will put him on trial in his own country, Justice Minister Ali Ashour said on Sunday.
Saif al-Islam remains in a secret prison in the custody of the Zintan rebels who caught him last year and will be tried in Libya by Libyan judges on charges of financial corruption, murder and rape, Ashour told Reuters.
Despite the ICC's demands that he be sent to The Hague for trial, "there is no intention to hand him (Saif al-Islam) over to the ICC, and Libyan law is the right system to be used to try Saif Gaddafi," Ashour said.
He denied allegations of mistreatment made by an ICC defense lawyer, who said this week that Saif al-Islam had been beaten and had been misled about the charges against him. "He eats with the people who guard him, and he is in good condition," he said.
Pressure is mounting on Libya to hand Gaddafi's son to the ICC as human rights organizations say the country is unable to give him a fair trial.
An ICC delegation arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to discuss Saif al-Islam's case with the justice ministry, Libya's representative in the ICC, Ahmad al-Jahani, told Reuters.
Ashour said his ministry had prepared a prison for Saif al-Islam and negotiations were under way with the Zintan rebels to transfer him to Tripoli.
The ICC says it has jurisdiction over the case because it issued warrants last year for the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, who was arrested last month in Mauritania.
A U.N. Security Council Resolution obliges Libya to cooperate with the court, the ICC says, and Tripoli's failure to hand over Saif al-Islam could result in it being reported to the Council.
Saif al-Islam faces the death penalty if found guilty by a Libyan court and a prison term if convicted by the ICC. Muammar Gaddafi was killed after being captured alive by rebel fighters.
The post-Gaddafi interim government has been unable to impose its authority on Libya's patchwork of tribal and regional power centers and bring law and order. Rival militias remain well armed, and Western human rights organizations have accused them of carrying out many extra-judicial executions and other abuses.
On Wednesday, the ICC ordered Tripoli to "comply with its obligations to enforce the warrant of arrest" and surrender Saif al-Islam to the court's custody without delay.
The ICC had earlier given Libya until January 10 to say whether and when it would surrender Saif al-Islam and to provide information about his health, then extended the deadline to February.
Ashour declined on Sunday to give details of how Saif al-Islam would be tried or of preparations for his trial, saying only that the judicial committee responsible for the trial had not yet been created.
In the case of Senussi, 62, Ashour said the Mauritanian president had promised to hand him over to Libya.
"The Mauritanian president promised us that Abdullah Senussi will be handed over to the Libyan government and not to any other government," he said.
There has been pressure from the French government to send Senussi to France, where he has been sentenced in absentia for the bombing of a UTA airliner over Niger in 1989 in which 170 people were killed. Families of the victims immediately demanded he face justice in France.
Senussi is also suspected in Libya of having played a central role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996.
(Writing By Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Tim Pearce)