By Thierry Denoël, David Leloup
An official Libyan delegation, present in Brussels last week, was snubbed by the Belgian government.
In a letter addressed to Ministers Reynders (Foreign Affairs) and Van Overtveldt (Finance), she asked for an audit of Libyan assets frozen in Belgium and transferred to Luxembourg. Its deadline: December 9, the international anti-corruption day.
A high-level delegation from Libya, composed of an ambassador elected as minister in 2015 and two parliamentary committee presidents, was in Brussels last weekend.
Is it a coincidence?
The three Libyans descended into an imposing four-star Rogier Square, located right next to Euroclear HQ. Where 12.8 billion euros of Libyan assets were frozen by the UN in early March 2011, during the fall of Gaddafi. Where these 12.8 billion, invested in stocks and bonds, have since gained value to reach 14,867,413,175.95 euros as of February 18, 2015.
The three delegates literally slept next to the “safe”, shaken by an international scandal for several months. A safe from which 10 billion Libyan capital frozen by the UN would have strangely “evaporated” when the justice wanted to seize them at the end of 2017.
A safe deposit of which about 1,5 billion interests and dividends “leaked” in all discretion, for five years, in violation of UN sanctions, to land in unknown Libyan hands.
Too busy agenda of Van Overtveldt
The Libyan delegation had announced a few days before his arrival and wanted to meet with interlocutors at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance to discuss Libya assets frozen at Euroclear Bank.
Unfortunately for them, the three men could not be received, and returned empty-handed in Libya. They should repeat the trip (2,700 km) next week. If the government has not fallen by then.
A note proposing a meeting on Thursday, November 29 was, however, sent Friday, 23rd by the Libyan Embassy in Brussels to the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. Have Libyan emissaries been snubbed? Was the delay too short? Still, they received no response. And so could not meet anyone, not even collaborators of the two ministers concerned, Didier Reynders (MR) and Johan Van Overtveldt (N-VA).
The cabinet of the latter confirms having received the Libyan request, but did not follow up because of a busy agenda. In addition, during their stay in Brussels, the Libyan delegation increased diplomatic contacts.
The three men met with members of the federal parliament, the parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region, the Senate, but also experts from the United Nations and MEPs, including the Portuguese socialist Ana Gomes.
67 billion, around the world
Who are these three emissaries who wish to see the Belgian ministers? In the wake of the revelations of the Vif / L’Express concerning the case of Libyan funds frozen at Euroclear Bank in Brussels, the Libyan parliament has set up a “Monitoring Committee of Libyan assets frozen abroad.” This special committee is composed of three persons: Yosef Ebrahem Algouri, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives, whose 200 members were elected on June 25, 2014,
Omar Tantoush, chairman of the Finance Committee of this same parliamentary assembly, and
Murad Hamaima, a diplomat from the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Remarkably, the latter is a civil servant dependent on the government of national agreement of Prime Minister Fayez el-Sarraj based in Tripoli, recognized by the United Nations but … not legitimate in the eyes of the House of Representatives, folded in Tobruk, in the east of the country, and where sit Algouri and Tantoush.
In other words, when you talk about “big money”, the two institutions manage to get around the table to try to find solutions. Especially since, as its name indicates, this Committee for monitoring Libyan assets frozen abroad is not limited to small Belgium.
The sovereign wealth fund Libyan Investment Authority and its subsidiary Lafico, to which assets frozen in Brussels belong, had in 2012, according to Deloitte, some 67 billion dollars distributed around the world.
Total transparency required
Before boarding the plane on Sunday morning, Committee members wrote to Prime Minister Charles Michel, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt and Speaker of the House Siegfried Bracke.
The letters were delivered Monday by the Libyan Embassy to the Protocol Directorate of the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs. “In the name of the parliament and the Libyan state”, these letters formally request the Belgian government to send to the embassy an up-to-date list of “all financial assets frozen in financial institutions in Belgium”, distinguishing the capital initially frozen interest they generated.
Libya wants full transparency on the transfers of these funds. “If any amounts, whether from capital or from interest generated by such capital, have been transferred since the initial freeze, please provide our office with all detailed information concerning such transfers, including national or foreign accounts to which such transfers have been made.
the transferred amounts and, of course, the reason for these transfers of assets from the Libyan State, as well as the competent institutions in Libya having requested such transfers. “, states the letter from the Libyans.
Clearly, the parliament and the government of Libya address to Reynders and Van Overtveldt the same precise questions that Belgian deputies have been asking them for nine months.
And that the two ministers “wander” happily in an artistic vagueness since all this time …
The Libyans pose a very symbolic ultimatum to the government: “We kindly ask you to communicate this information to the embassy of Libya to Brussels, ideally by 9 December, the International Day Against Corruption. “
What message did Libya send to the Belgian government by mentioning this anti-corruption day?
Would it be an awkwardness coming from an ambassador who is however well versed in international negotiations?
Libyans’ request is nevertheless flexible, but firm: “If, for any reason, you are experiencing a delay in providing this information, please inform the embassy in writing (as well as the reasons for the delay), as well as the planned date for which you will be able to provide the requested information. “
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn received the same request from the Libyan Committee regarding interest and dividends transferred from Belgium by Euroclear Bank to his client HSBC Securities Services Luxembourg on behalf of the LIA.
Indeed, only financial institutions can be clients at Euroclear. HSBC Securities Services owns at Euroclear account no. 17640 on behalf of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund. As of February 18, 2015, this account had 2.17 billion euros in securities and 1.12 billion in cash. That’s 3.29 billion euros.
The rest of the Libyan pact frozen in Belgium is spread over three accounts opened by the Arab Banking Corporation based in Manama, Bahrain, for the LIA (one account) and Lafico (two accounts).
The three Libyan base their requests for information on a new resolution of the Security Council, resolution 2441 (2018) voted on November 5 . This follows the publication in early September of a particularly scathing report of the UN Group of Experts on Libya for Belgium.
In this resolution, the Security Council “invites Member States, in particular those in which designated persons or entities are based [on the UN” black list “, which is the case of the LIA], as well as those in which their frozen assets (…) are suspected to be present, to inform the [Sanctions] Committee of the measures they have taken to effectively implement the (…) asset freezing measures of all persons registered on the list of sanctions “.
On Friday, 30 November, the Libyan Committee visited Luxembourg where it was received by two officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the interests transferred by Euroclear Bank to HSBC in the Grand Duchy.
According to the Libyans, the Luxembourgers claimed that these interests were immediately frozen, as soon as they arrived, by the Grand Ducal authorities.
Contacted by us to confirm this version, the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs merely confirmed the visit of the three Libyans but did not confirm the freezing of interest paid to HSBC, justifying “the complex situation in Libya”.
If confirmed, the version of the freezing of interests by Luxembourg contradicts the statements to the Reuters agency of the President of the LIA, Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed: according to him, more than a billion dollars has been sent since 2011 from custodian bank accounts in Belgium and Luxembourg to LIA accounts opened with the Arab Banking Corporation in Bahrain.
This would also appear to be a disavowal by Luxembourg vis-à-vis the Belgian thaw the interests of Libyan funds.
Photo: Libyan parliamentarian Yosef Algouri, chairman of the Libyan assets monitoring committee frozen abroad, in front of Euroclear Bank in Brussels, where € 14.9 billion was still frozen in February 2015.