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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Pressure mounts on Belgium over sanctions-busting payments to Libya

A newly-emerged letter by Foreign Minister Didier Reynders suggests Belgian government allowed transfers from frozen Libyan assets

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders arrives for a media conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, EU members of the UN Security Council at the Egmont Palace in Brussels. AP
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders arrives for a media conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, EU members of the UN Security Council at the Egmont Palace in Brussels. AP

The Belgian government is under increasing pressure to explain why it allowed hundreds of millions of euros to flow into Libyan government accounts – in apparent contravention of international sanctions – after a letter from the Foreign Minister revealed Belgium considered payments from funds frozen by sanctions.

In a 2012 letter obtained and published by Belgian media, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told the Libyan government that he wanted the bills of eight Belgian companies to be settled after mentioning the possibility of frozen funds being unblocked.

In September last year, a UN panel of experts concluded Belgium violated international sanctions and argued that the cash flow "could lead to the misuse and misappropriation of funds.” The payments were made between 2011 and 2017, in contravention to UN sanctions.

Mr Reynders denied the allegations saying that he did not held any power on financial matters at that time. “This is responsibility of the finance ministry and I have not been there since December 6, 2011. I have not taken any decisions on this matter,” he told local media.

Belgium's opposition is now attempting to gather a majority in parliament to hold a hearing with the UN experts.

Mr Reynders could be called in by the finance ministry to clarify his position in the coming weeks. One of the issues he will need to explain is the listing of CK Technology among the Belgian companies with whom the Libyan government had an outstanding debt. Representatives of the information technology firm told Belgian media they did not have any business in Libya at the time and are not able to explain why their company was listed in the correspondence.

The embattled foreign minister will need to respond to allegations that he allowed payment from Libyan assets held in at least four bank accounts managed by Euroclear, a financial institution headquartered in Brussels.

Flemish Socialist lawmaker Dirk Van der Maelen submitted official questions to Mr Reynders on Wednesday, asking him to confirm if "proceeds of the frozen Libyan assets at Euroclear released by the Belgian government have served to finance weapons [for] Libyan militias."

Mr Van der Maelen said the Belgian government was “not neutral” in the financing of Libyan militias.

The UN froze an estimated $67 billion of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund in 2011 to prevent money being seized during widespread violence that led to the overthrow and death of dictator.

A UN expert report revealed in September last year that a bank in Belgium, reportedly holding more than $20 billion of the frozen funds, transferred dividends and interest to accounts controlled by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) outside of the country.

The LIA said the UN report did not conclude there had been any breaches of sanctions on its part and there was no evidence that any funds had been transferred to armed groups.

However, a news report by the Belgian public service broadcaster RTBF released at the same time cited an anonymous source as suggesting that the Belgian government had played a role in the financing of Libyan militias responsible for human trafficking

Updated: February 21, 2019 08:17 PM

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