Probe Libya’s Fire Sale

Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Friday, 14 October 2011 09:40

For sale: One oil-rich North African state, sixth largest reserves in the world, spectacular Mediterranean views and good transport links to Italy. One careful but eccentric owner. Price on application.

Like used-car dealers, the traders of na- tional assets are not big on transparency. For the past 42 years, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has hired some of the wiliest operators to hawk Libya’s oil and gas licences around the salons of Europe and Asia’s hyper-economies. Those billions of dollars in payments were rapidly banked offshore. Only a small proportion of that revenue was ever reinvested in Libya’s ailing economy, schools and clinics. The grinding poverty and oppression in Cyrenaica fired up the rebellion in its early months.

More is emerging about the Gaddafi family’s mafia grip on the country’s finances and the activities of its foreign accomplices. The incoming National Transitional Council (NTC) would do Africa and Europe a useful service if it hired a team of forensic auditors – available at the African Development Bank in neighbouring Tunisia – to track the assets stolen by Gaddafi Inc. and to publish the full report detailing the culpability of European and African government officials and their business associates in these criminal dealings.

Gaddafi did not lose any sleep over the shortchanging of overweight Western oil executives, and they will lose no sleep over his demise. Rather, they are hoping to profit hugely from the newly-installed NTC’s need to raise money quickly. Visiting executives have informed their Libyan interlocutors that European governments’ decision to carpet bomb Gaddafi’s military assets has ushered in a brave new democratic world. But harassed Libyan officials do not appear very grateful; perhaps it is that sense of déjà vu.

Billions of dollars were spirited out of Libya under Gaddafi’s rule and the new leadership has an unprecedented opportunity to address past wrongs and prevent them from being repeated

A decade ago, British, French and Italian traders arrived with open chequebooks to welcome Gaddafi back to ‘Club Europe’ after he gave up his plans to develop nuclear weapons, a move he must now deeply regret when he looks at the respect accorded to Kim Jong-Il and his atomic armoury in Pyongyang. Elaborate state visits were arranged, Bedouin tents were pitched next to the Élysée Palace and covert arms deals were negotiated in five-star hotel bars.

Only Rama Yade, French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s human rights minister, had the good taste to refuse to shake Gaddafi’s hand. British premier Tony Blair suffered no such inhibitions; footage of his fulsome embrace of the Libyan leader is rebroadcast daily on global news channels.

It now emerges that just as some Western diplomats were persuading Gaddafi to shut down his deeply improbable nu- clear weapons programme in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, arms dealers from Britain, the US and China were helping him spend Libya’s oil billions on massively overpriced arms bun- dles. More than half the companies exhibiting at Libya’s arms show last year were British.

Even Chinese officials, with their iron-clad non-interference policy, looked shamefaced when it emerged that one of China’s companies had discussed arms sales with Gaddafi’s officials in July. African recipients of the Gaddafi dinar have included Uganda’s Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni (at different times), Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré and Liberia’s Charles Taylor (to bankroll his militias that murdered their way across West Africa). Add to that those Kenyan and South African politicians paid to sing Gaddafi’s praises and of course, Zimbabwe’s comrade Robert Mugabe, as well as the docile officials at the African Union who played along profitably with the Colonel’s super-state fantasy.

The best tribute to all those brave fighters who took on Gaddafi’s guns would be the comprehensive exposure of the politicians and business people from across the globe who profited from the Libyan leader’s tyranny. The aim should be to prevent a repeat performance, and the chances of doing that have never been better.

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