Nearly nine months after Politico first reported that interest payments stemming from nearly $70 billion in frozen assets formerly belonging to the regime of deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had been paid to opaque accounts belonging to the Libyan Investment Authority, UN investigators are finally looking into where the money went. At last count, RT reported that interest payments generated by the assets had reached $5.7 billion. According to public broadcaster RTBF, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the money flows, the money may have gone to accounts controlled by Libyan militia groups that have been accused of human rights abuses.
Back in 2011, as NATO bombs were falling over Tripoli, the United Nations voted to sanction Libya and freeze all assets belonging to the Gaddafi regime that were being held abroad. As Politico explained, the regime had spread its capital across Europe and North America, investing in companies as diverse as the Italian bank UniCredit to the British publisher Pearson. But Brussels-based Euroclear, which had custody of four of the regime-linked accounts, chose not to halt the interest payments flowing out of those accounts. That's because in the EU, where national governments were charged with enforcing the sanctions, it was decided that only the assets themselves would be frozen, not the interest payments stemming from those assets.
Instead, capital continued to flow from these assets into accounts controlled by the Libyan Investment Authority, a nebulous quasi-state affiliated organization that controlled the seized assets when Gaddafi was still in power. These interest payments stemmed from stock dividends, bond coupon payments and other sources of revenue. So far, Belgian authorities have denied any responsibility for allowing the loophole in the sanctions regime. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn't involved in the decision to unblock interest on deposits.
"This [decision to unblock funds] is the responsibility of the Finance Ministry. I have not headed it since December 6, 2011, and have not made any decisions on this matter," Reynders said. Instead, he pointed the finger at former Finance Minister Steven Vanackere, whom he said was in charge when the ministry granted permission to unfreeze the interest payments.
Meanwhile, the UN is also investigating the disappearance of billions of dollars that are believed to have been embezzled from the Gaddafi accounts, according to Belgian MP Georges Gilkinet.
"UN documents confirm that Belgium failed to comply with a UN resolution on freezing Libyan assets," Gilkinet told RTBF, adding that he had only received fragmentary information from Belgian authorities. The politician said it is necessary "to clarify the situation, which may lead to a big scandal, because hundreds of millions of euros were sent to unknown individuals in Libya."
As Politico Europe exposed in an investigation published back in February, interest payments from frozen accounts linked to Gaddafi had been flowing to bank accounts in Bahrain and Luxembourg in recent years, in apparent contravention of an EU order stipulating that the former Libyan dictator's wealth was to be held in trust for the Libyan people to access once the country, still riven by conflict years after then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped toppled Gaddafi's regime by pushing for a NATO-led intervention that helped rebels topple his regime.
Since then, Libya has fractured into separate fiefdoms ruled by competing warlords. A UN-recognized government still rules in Tripoli, while a rival administration has seized power in the eastern port of Tobruk, across the country, Islamist insurgencies also contribute to the instability.
While Gaddafi’s wealth is meant to be held in trust for the Libyan people until the war-shattered country stabilizes, interest payments flowed from frozen accounts in Brussels to bank accounts in Luxembourg and Bahrain over recent years.
The LIA's finances remain murky, and the only aspect of this situation that is clear is that the interest payments are going to someone. But the individual or individuals who ultimately control the disparate LIA accounts remain a mystery. Though we'd be willing to wager that, whatever the money is being used for, it has nothing to do with the welfare of the Libyan people.