x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Libya ups pressure on Swiss

A diplomatic row takes on sombre economic consequences as Libya stops shipping oil to Switzerland.

Libyans protest in front of the Swiss embassy in Tripoli yesterday over the arrest on July 15 of Hannibal Qadafi, the son of the Libyan leader.
Libyans protest in front of the Swiss embassy in Tripoli yesterday over the arrest on July 15 of Hannibal Qadafi, the son of the Libyan leader.

A diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland took on sombre economic consequences yesterday as Libya stopped shipping oil to the landlocked European nation and an influential political group called for the withdrawal of US$6.5 billion (Dh23.8bn) from Swiss vaults. The dispute was sparked by the arrest of the youngest son of the Libyan leader, Muamer Qadafi, and his wife in Switzerland 10 days ago on charges of ill treatment of two domestic employees, which the couple denied. The arrest sparked a public rally in Libya yesterday, where hundreds of government supporters called for an apology from the Swiss government.

Two Swiss nationals were detained in Libya on July 19 and the Libyan national airline, Afriquiyah, said on Wednesday that it was reducing the number of flights to the Alpine country. Switzerland's Foreign Ministry has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Libya and said it sent a delegation to Tripoli to resolve matters. "A diplomatic delegation left Bern for Tripoli [on Wednesday] in order to provide the Libyan authorities with detailed information on the apprehension on July 15 in Geneva of Hannibal Qadafi," the ministry said. "The purpose of this visit is to prevent a crisis between the two countries."

An influential Libyan political group, the Revolutionary Committees Movement, called for the withdrawal of Libya's deposits in Swiss banks, a spokesman from Libya's Foreign Ministry said yesterday. Libya, like other major oil exporters, has built up major foreign exchange holdings due to high oil prices. Its state investment authority manages a $50bn portfolio and about $6.5bn is kept in Swiss bank accounts, according to Swiss National Bank statistics.

Hannibal Qadafi, 32, and his wife were arrested in a hotel in Geneva on July 15 after staff informed police of repeated arguments in their suite. The couple were released on bail two days after the arrest. "There is no need to detain a leader's son like that, which triggered off all of this trouble," said a spokesman for the Libyan Foreign Ministry. Mr Qadafi has a history of brushes with the law in Europe. In 2005, France complained to Libya after he allegedly beat up a woman in a Paris hotel, scuffled with police, brandished a gun and falsely claimed diplomatic immunity, according to European newspapers at the time.

Six months before, he allegedly drove his Porsche at 145km per hour through red lights on the Champs Elysées, the newspapers reported. Libya is Switzerland's largest supplier of oil. Libya's state-run oil tanker company, General National Maritime Transport, which Mr Qadafi helps to manage, plans to stop carrying oil destined for Switzerland, the company said yesterday. Switzerland will have to find other tankers to transport the 60,000 barrels a day of oil it gets from Libya.

"Since July 17, the Libyan authorities have taken a number of worrying retaliatory measures," the Swiss Foreign Ministry said. "Until further notice, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs advises Swiss citizens not to travel to Libya." Switzerland also said Libya had recalled its chargé d'affaires and other officials, but an official at the Libyan Embassy in Geneva denied this. The statement also said Libya had suspended the issuance of visas for Swiss nationals, and Swiss companies in Libya had received orders to close.

"The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs will strenuously pursue its efforts to obtain the release of Swiss nationals and to bring an end to the measures against Swiss companies in Libya," the Swiss ministry said. Meanwhile in Tripoli the Revolutionary Committees Movement, a group of the Libyan leader's followers, said if an apology was not forthcoming for what it suggested were trumped-up charges, Libya should cut diplomatic ties with Switzerland.

@Email:abakr@thenational.ae With Agencies