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Attempt to freeze Moammar Kadafi's assets hits resistance

Some countries have done little to cut off tens of billions that Libya's Kadafi family has spread around the globe, officials say, allowing the leader access to an enormous amount of cash.

April 24, 2011|By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

In recent years, Kadafi also structured investments abroad in ways that enable him to quickly reclaim them, officials and analysts say. Investigators searching for his assets are still struggling to unravel the complex web of investments he built around the world.

Some were relatively easy to find. The country's sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority, had invested in major European banks and businesses, including the Dutch-Belgian bank Fortis, Italy's UniCredit banking giant, Britain's Pearson media empire, Italian defense firm Finmeccanica and an oil-production agreement with BP. It even owned a stake in an Italian soccer team, Juventus.

Other lucrative investments turned up in Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf, where Libya controls 60% of Bahrain's Arab Banking Corp.

Other investments have proved harder to track, or to freeze.

Investigators say Kadafi has invested at least $5 billion since 2006 in African oil companies, pipelines, telecommunications firms, hotels, refineries and real estate.

The investments were motivated, in part, by "a desire to promote specific Libyan foreign policy objectives, or by the personal interests, desires and whims of the Kadafi family," said Ronald Bruce St. John, a veteran Libya analyst based in New Mexico.

In Kenya, the government has yet to freeze Libyan assets. They include Libya Oil Kenya Ltd., a major oil and gas distributor, and Nairobi's posh Laico Regency Hotel.

Zimbabwe, led by Kadafi's longtime ally Robert Mugabe, is not expected to comply with the freeze, a European diplomat said. Kadafi has a stake in the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, and investments in tourism and real estate, and has helped prop up Mugabe's brutal regime for years, analysts say.

Turkey has supported the international coalition arrayed against Kadafi, including deploying warships and planes to enforce the arms embargo and providing humanitarian aid. Yet Turkey has $17 billion worth of private investment in Libya's economy, and Libya has had sizeable investments in Turkey as well.

Turkey "wants to preserve those economic interests," said Bulent Aliriza, a specialist on Turkey at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Russia and China have frozen some Libyan assets. But they and India balked at Western proposals at the Security Council to add more Libyan individuals and organizations to the list of those whose assets must be frozen. The proposals would seize the assets of some Libyan-owned oil companies with links to the three.

Diplomats say the resistance in New Delhi, Moscow and Beijing stems partly from economic concerns, but also from political doubts about the viability of the rebellion and the NATO-led military efforts against Kadafi. All three nations abstained on the Security Council's votes to sanction Libya.

paul.richter@latimes.com

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