DUBAI // Libyan oligarchs who profited from ties to the Qaddafi regime are trying to rebrand themselves as patrons of the revolution, raising concerns that corruption could be swept under the rug.
The businessmen have set up aid groups, youth movements and media outlets.
But their comebacks have stirred resentment among ordinary Libyans that could boil over if unaddressed, according to Aref Nayed, the Libyan ambassador to the UAE, who oversaw stabilisation efforts after the uprising.
Libya's interim government faced protests last week amid accusations of poor transparency and links to the previous regime.
"My estimation is that, if things are not at least on their way to a settlement and fairness within eight months to a year, you will see people taking matters in a different direction," Dr Nayed said. "Some of these individuals who have this vast wealth are the prime suspects in corruption charges.
"What is interesting is some of them did aid the revolution."
The Libyan deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, said such individuals could be accepted back into society - if they settled their accounts.
"With those who stole Libyan money, and there's many of those people, they have billions of dollars … we would love to have them back among the Libyan people, but they need to give the Libyan people back their money," he told The National in Dubai last month. He headed a university in the emirate until his appointment to government in November.
The media outreach and other activities of these businessmen could influence elections scheduled for later this year, Dr Nayed warned.
Many of these men amassed fortunes into the billions through partnerships with former regime insiders.
Dr Nayed declined to give specific names, but gave as an example an associate of Abdullah Al Senussi, the former Libyan intelligence chief and the brother-in-law of the deposed ruler, Muammar Qaddafi.
"Abdullah Senussi is no longer. But his partner - who helped the revolution - may now own newspapers or media and may now even support religious scholars or tribal scholars who will bless his work," he said.
But ordinary Libyans have been exposing these men on social media sites, which Dr Nayed said blunted their influence.
"With Facebook, there are no secrets anymore," he said.
The return of these oligarchs comes as Libya struggles with a backlog of cases requiring transnational justice for people linked to the former regime.
These people range from low-level workers to Qaddafi's heir apparent, his son Saif Al Islam, who was detained in November and is awaiting trial.
The Libyan authorities have refused to hand him to the International Criminal Court and plan to try him at home, not only for war crimes as the ICC had intended, but also for corruption.
Libyans have tribal and religious traditions for dealing with former regime members, including distinguishing between public workers simply earning a living and those accused of corruption or violence.
The government would eventually work to recover money "stolen" by well-connected businessmen, said Dr Abushagur.
But it had more urgent matters to resolve first, such as security.
Ten of thousands of rebel fighters who converged on Tripoli for the final battle of the revolution remain in the capital, with weapons but without work.
Those from rival militias have clashed sporadically.
The priority for the government is to find those men jobs, pay public workers, treat the injured, provide for widows and find missing persons.
"We need to take care of other things first," Dr Abushagur said.
"But we are obligated by the Libyan people to go and get their money back," he said. "I don't have a timeline, but we need to do it very soon."
* This article was updated on February 3, 2012. Abdullah Al Senussi was incorrectly described as "the late Abdullah Al Senussi". In fact, authorities are not certain of Mr Al Senussi's whereabouts.