Who is Farhat Bengdara, the new chief of Libya’s black gold?

By Maher Hajbi
Posted on Friday, 19 August 2022 11:06

Farhat Bengdara, newly appointed chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), in Tripoli, July 14, 2022. ©REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed

After having ensured the revival of oil production, the former banker, at the helm of Libya’s National Oil Corporation since 14 July, wants to double the pace. His objective? To go from 1.2 million to 3 million barrels per day.

Originally from Benghazi, the stronghold of Marshal Haftar, Farhat Bengadra is reputed to be close to Gaddafi’s former military cadre but also to the United Arab Emirates, where he was director of Al Masraf Bank.

His appointment is said to be the result of a secret agreement between Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dabaiba and Khalifa Haftar, who wants to preserve the eastern Libyan camp’s share of the oil windfall. Here’s what you need to know about the National Oil Corporation (NOC)’s new boss.

Central bank

Under the former regime, Farhat Bengadra was one of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL)’s strongmen. During 11 years of loyal service, he managed to climb the hierarchy. CBL deputy governor from 2000 to 2006, he was then enthroned by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi at the head of the financial institution (2006-2011).

Istanbul

A few weeks after the revolt against Gaddafi, Bengdara decided to leave his post. This “financier of the regime” headed to Turkey. Considered at the time to be the country’s strongbox, he was at the heart of speculations over Gaddafi’s fortune and the freezing of the family’s assets.

Islamists

In order to transform his image and reject any affiliation with the fallen regime, Bengdara cosied up to the Islamists. In 2011, he praised their role in the regime’s collapse, emphasising their radical turnaround: “The Islamists have abandoned the takfirist ideology”.

Apolitical (or almost)

Torn between his liabilities linked to Gaddafi and his Islamist mea culpa, Bengdara has proclaimed loud and clear that he has no political agenda.

Back in business since 14 July,  he has reiterated this commitment: “The National Oil Company will remain outside all personal and political rivalries”.

Power struggle

His assumption of office at the NOC was marked by a protocol mishap: the handover of power did not take place. His predecessor, Mustafa Sanalla, in office since 2014, refused to give up his post. The now ex-king of Libyan oil was deposed by armed men loyal to Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba.

Consensus

To avoid any confrontation with the Libyan tribes, Bengdara has played his company’s “social responsibility” card. He says he is open to discussion and ready to implement tribal demands in terms of health, environmental and agricultural services.

Shukri Ghanem

A former member of the Supreme Petroleum Council, the NOC chief is working to resurrect the plan sketched out by Shukri Ghanem, former Libyan prime minister and oil ministry chief (2006-2009), who died in 2012.

With some adjustments – notably more transparency – Bengdara wants to double production to 3 million barrels per day.

Relaunch

While he praises the Libyan workforce, for whom he has reserved a salary increase, Libya’s new oil boss is also counting on international partners. After the resumption of production, Bengdara will analyse, along with foreign companies, the possibility of giving a boost to Libyan black gold and gas exports.

Reluctance

The exploitation of the continent’s most abundant reserves is under scrutiny. US Ambassador to Tripoli Richard Norland said he was “deeply concerned” about a possible escalation of tensions, calling for the NOC’s “political and technical” independence.

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