Shukri Ghanem, a former Libyan prime minister and oil minister who last year announced he was abandoning former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime to support the rebels who ultimately toppled the dictator, was found dead in a section of the Danube river flowing through Vienna, Austrian police said.
Police spokesman Roman Hahslinger said the 69-year-old’s corpse was found floating in the river early on Sunday morning. The body showed no external signs of violence, but the cause of death was not immediately clear and an autopsy will be carried out, Hahslinger said.
“There would be no signs of violence if someone pushed him in,” Hahslinger said. “But it’s also possible that he became ill and fell into the water.”
An Austrian foreign ministry official said family members initially told the ministry that Ghanem had died of a heart attack, adding that their version appeared to be plausible. He demanded anonymity because his ministry was not in charge of investigations.
Ghanem was dressed normally when found in the river, but had no personal identification on him other than a document that named the company he was working for, Hahslinger said. An employee of the company was subsequently contacted and identified him, the police spokesman said.
Hahslinger said Ghanem apparently left his residence early on Sunday morning after spending Saturday evening at home with an acquaintance. Police were alerted by a passerby who saw his body floating near his Vienna residence, close to the modernistic building housing UN agencies in the Austrian capital.
Ghanem was a former Libyan prime minister who last served as his country’s oil minister until last year. He left Libya for Tunisia and then Europe in June last year as insurgents were pushing to topple Qaddafi, and he subsequently announced he would support the rebels.
Ghanem was said to be autocratic at home, but reporters covering OPEC remembered him as a friendly man who readily gave his cellphone number to selected journalists covering OPEC ministerial meetings and gracefully took even late-evening calls.
With advanced degrees in law and economics, Ghanem served in senior positions within the Vienna-based OPEC before his appointment as Libyan prime minister in June 2003 — an office he held until 2006 when he took the oil ministry portfolio.
Considered a member of Qaddafi’s inner circle until his defection, he insisted that Libya bore no responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.
He also repudiated Libyan responsibility in the 1984 shooting death of British constable Yvonne Fletcher during a protest in front of his country’s embassy — an incident that led to the severing of British-Libyan relations.