Thu, Feb 24, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Experts say Qaddafis could have billions stashed away

MONEY WELL-SPENT?As well as squirreling away much of their income, the Qaddafis have spent fortunes propping up various African regimes

The Guardian, ROME

A demonstrator holds a caricature of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi as he shouts slogans at a rally yesterday outside Libya’s embassy in Tokyo.

Photo: Reuters

The family of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi could have billions of US dollars of funds hidden away in secret bank accounts in Dubai, southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf, much of it likely to have come from Libya’s vast oil revenues, according to analysis by leading Middle East experts.

Professor Tim Niblock, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, England, has identified a “gap” of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending — a shortfall he expects has contributed greatly to the wealth of Qaddafi and his nine children.

“It is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places, but at the very least it would be several billion [US] dollars, and it could be a lot higher,” Niblock said.

Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank, agreed that it was difficult to establish the extent of the Qaddafis’ wealth, but said he “would be surprised if it didn’t run into billions.”

Where the Qaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and southeast Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK.

Libyan has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group.

In addition to squirreling away much of their income, the Qaddafis have spent fortunes over the years “propping up” various African regimes, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe widely acknowledged to be among the biggest recipients, Niblock said.

In the 1990s Qaddafi is thought to have given money to the Zaghawan tribe in Darfur, “and I suspect some of them are among the African mercenaries fighting the civilians in Libya,” Niblock said.

Libya’s growth has enabled the country to build up myriad investments overseas. In addition to the Qaddafis’ private holdings, the state is thought to have invested close to US$100 billion across the globe.

Their investments in the UK include an eight-bedroom home in Hampstead, north London, with a swimming pool and suede-lined cinema room that Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the Libyan leader’s second son, bought in 2009 for £10 million (US$16 million).

Most of the state’s investments are made by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a so-called sovereign wealth fund set up in 2006 to spend the country’s oil money, which has an estimated US$70 billion of assets. LIA bought 3 percent of Pearson last year for £224 million making it one of the group’s biggest shareholders.

The Libyan leader famously enjoys a warm personal relationship with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and partly as a result has recently brokered at least two direct investment projects in the south of country, both of which involve water bottling plants.

Experts say if Qaddafi is overthrown, the investments made by Libya’s various state funds would probably be unaffected, since any new government would have far more pressing matters to attend to, and any sudden movements could damage their reputation for the future.

However, it is thought likely that a new regime in Libya could look to freeze the assets of the Qaddafi family, as the new government in Egypt did with the assets of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his family.

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