Plans to use Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s assets abroad to aid Libyan rebels will prove legally difficult to execute, but may be possible under a UN convention allowing the recovery of ill-gained money, observers say.
Unlocking the Libyan leaders’ funds abroad would pose “many difficulties” as the international resolutions freezing them remained in force, said Giorgio Sacerdoti, international law professor at the University of Bocconi in Milan, Italy.
“The government in Tripoli has not disappeared and the resolutions of the UN and the European Union do not say that he [Qaddafi] is illegitimate,” Sacerdoti added.
The value of the Qaddafi clan’s assets frozen abroad is estimated at US$60 billion — more than half of it in the US. On Thursday, international powers pledged funds to aid Libyan rebels in their battle to oust the strongman, with donations going to a fund that will later be topped up with the frozen assets — an act the regime in Tripoli rejected as an act of “piracy on the high seas.”
The fund, agreed at a meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya, is intended to provide an emergency lifeline to the rebels, whose provisional administration has no source of financing to replace receipts from oil exports, which have come to a virtual halt.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the unlocking of assets “poses legal problems,” as Italy and France urged the EU “to seek a solution,” adding: “That money belongs to the Libyan people.”
Rights group Transparency International mooted use of the UN Convention against Corruption, signed in 2003, which upholds as a “fundamental principle” the recovery of assets obtained illegally and held abroad.
The convention did not specify that assets could be returned only to states, said the body’s French president Daniel Lebegue.
“We will not return to dictators the proceeds of their pillaging,” he said. “Other solutions must be found for populations to benefit.”
International estimates are that corruption costs poor countries US$20 billion to US$40 billion per year. In more than 15 years, only US$5 billion has been returned.
The World Bank has launched the Stolen Asset Recovery initiative, dubbed Star, to finance development programs with recovered money.
In earlier cases, the assets of former presidents like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier, have been or are being returned to their countries, but only after their fall from power.
In order to avoid legal difficulties, the unfrozen money could be used to pay salaries, to buy medicines and supplies and for reconstruction, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Ben Jassem al-Thani said — not to buy arms.
“The money must not go through the cash registers of the NTC [Libyan National Transitional Council], it should go directly to humanitarian programs via UN agencies for example,” Lebegue added. “It must benefit the people, not the leaders.”