x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Action to freeze Qaddafi billions

Western powers are freezing the assets of Muammar Qaddafi and his close family and friends, as reports emerge of corruption and vast skimming from the country's revenues.

Assets of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, middle, and the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, right, are being targeted.
Assets of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, middle, and the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, right, are being targeted.

The world's largest countries are beginning to freeze the vast global assets of the Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

The UN Security Council voted on Saturday to impose sanctions on Col Qaddafi and his advisers, and for the International Criminal Court to investigate attacks on civilians.

He and his family and confidantes are thought to have benefited greatly from Libya's oil exports and their tight control over the economy. The country's sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), is thought to own assets worth US$70 billion (Dh257.1bn).

Several western governments have voluntarily frozen assets of Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down this month as president of Egypt, and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the former president of Tunisia.

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For corporate investigators hired by foreign companies to research the ease of doing business inside Libya, the tendrils of the Qaddafi family in all elements of business in the country were unmistakable.

A Libyan corporate investigator, who asked not to be named, said he advised clients they would have to deal with the Qaddafis or their close associates to get anything done inside the country.

"It's totally corrupt. This is just how business works in Libya."

One case he said he experienced first-hand was a government contract to buy 10 MRI machines, medical tools for scanning the human body. The budget was $20 million, enough to buy 10 machines.

But the people in charge of the hospital found 10 Chinese versions for $150,000 each and pocketed the surplus $18.5m.

Recent disclosures of US government cables in WikiLeaks have revealed accounts of the internecine rivalry between Col Qaddafi's children.

Saadi, Mohammed and Mutassim - three of his sons - were "rumoured to be fighting at different points over who had the right to the representative licence" for distributing Coca-Cola, according to a leaked cable from May 10 2006.

Another son, Saif Qaddafi, profits from marketing foreign publications inside the country, the leaked cables said.

Aisha Qaddafi, a daughter, had interests in medical facilities and was spreading out into energy and construction. Mohammed Qaddafi runs the General Post and Telecommunications, which has an effective monopoly.

Locking down the foreign assets of Col Qaddafi's family and entourage could present a challenge to foreign governments because of complex ownership structures and disguised investments, investigators say.

While investment funds such as the LIA are known to have bought stakes in UniCredit, the Italian bank, and Pearson, the media company, the private investments of the family are likely to have been better concealed.

bhope@thenational.ae