Accused of corruption in multiple countries, Libyan oil tycoon Tatanaki went from funding lobbying efforts that promoted the Gaddafi regime to backing a rebel general’s campaign to vying for the country’s presidency himself.
Along the way, he held at least eight accounts at Credit Suisse, including one worth over half a billion Swiss francs.
- As he rubbed shoulders with dictators and backed a rebel general’s campaign, Hassan Tatanaki held at least eight accounts at Credit Suisse.
- The highest maximum account balance reached 530 million Swiss francs — half a billion dollars — in 2010, just a year before the Libyan uprising.
- The banking of Tatanaki, despite accusations that he was involved in multiple scandals and linked to human rights abusers, matches a broader pattern of customers with high-risk associations in the Suisse Secrets data.
In the tumultuous world of Libyan politics, Hassan Tatanaki is a survivor.
The country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, nationalized his family’s businesses in the 1970s and Tatanaki spent years abroad, but by the early 1990s he had managed to return and establish himself in the oil sector. From then on, he funded lobbying efforts that helped promote Gaddafi’s government in the United States, including when Libya was under international sanctions.
After an armed rebellion broke out against Gaddafi in 2011, Tatanaki switched gears and supported the uprising. During the civil war that followed, he backed a renegade general who fought against the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli and founded a stridently anti-Islamist television channel. Now he has switched gears once again, running for president himself on a secularist platform of bolstering Libya’s battered state institutions.
His winding career has also been marked by controversy and corruption accusations. In the early 2000s, a company he was involved with was accused of cutting sweetheart deals that would have allegedly shortchanged public treasuries in Jordan and Venezuela. In Libya, post-Gaddafi authorities briefly placed him on the Interpol wanted list.
Along the way, Tatanaki also held at least eight accounts at Credit Suisse, stretching back as far as 1988. The largest of these accounts was worth 530 million Swiss francs — half a billion U.S. dollars — at its peak in 2010, just a year before the Libyan uprising, leaked banking data from the Suisse Secrets investigation shows. At least two accounts remained open well into the last decade.
Speaking to OCCRP, Tatanaki denied any suggestion of wrongdoing and said he was an ordinary businessman who had sometimes been misrepresented or attacked in bad faith. He said he had not personally supported Gaddafi or the rebel general, Khalifa Heftar, and that his lobbying and post-uprising activities only aimed to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people. OCCRP has no evidence he has broken any laws.
Tatanaki acknowledged he had banked at Credit Suisse, but said he had no knowledge of the 530-million-franc account. “I never had any account of that nature,” he said.
But Tatanaki’s inclusion as a major Credit Suisse customer during the years he was linked in media reports to a sanctioned regime and multiple controversies fits a broader pattern in the Suisse Secrets data, which included numerous clients with high-risk associations.
Over decades, dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors with outsized wealth were able to stash their wealth at the bank.
Credit Suisse did not comment on specific questions about Tatanaki, but in a statement it said it “strongly rejects the allegations and inferences about the bank’s purported business practices” in the Suisse Secrets project.
“The matters presented are predominantly historical, in some cases dating back as far as the 1970s, and the accounts of these matters are based on partial, selective information taken out of context, resulting in tendentious interpretations of the bank’s business conduct,” it said.
Graham Barrow, a U.K.-based anti-financial crime consultant, said that banks have a particular responsibility to vet clients who have links to governments accused of corruption, or who have been accused of corruption themselves.
“Everyone should have some access to the banking system. … What you should not be able to do is use the banking system to introduce corruptly acquired wealth and legitimize it,” he said. “Ultimately it is impossible to tell what is the legitimate bit and what is the dirty bit.”
In March 1992, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya to pressure Gaddafi to cooperate with investigations into the bombing of a jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. The embargo took a severe economic toll on the country, while making it harder for the Libyan government to operate abroad.
After previously banning the private sector, the Gaddafi regime now began to cultivate numerous businessmen as financial “go-betweens” who could help move money abroad — sometimes including those whose property had previously been confiscated — according to Tim Eaton, a researcher at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“With the sanctions hitting after Lockerbie, you could see that there was a real economic disaster in Libya, and the regime realized it had to pivot,” he said.
By this time, Tatanaki had returned to Libya after years abroad and gone into the oil business. The same month the U.N. sanctions were imposed, Tatanaki began what would be a long career funding lobbying efforts to promote Gaddafi’s government in the United States.
He first signed an agreement with a Jersey-based firm called GBM Consultancy Ltd, owned by two former U.S. congressmen, David Bowen and John Murphy. The one-year contract, signed in Morocco, stipulated that Tatanaki would act as a “liaison” for the company while paying $450,000 as a retainer fee and $225,000 a month after that to cover its costs.
In return, the firm would work to “normalize the relations between the United States of America and Libya” and “portray the image of Libya and it’s [sic] administration in a most favorable view.”
In 1993, Bowen and Murphy were fined by the U.S. government for violating the Libya sanctions and ordered to pay $30,000.
Tatanaki’s association with the two men was widely reported, as was his lobbying work on behalf of the Gaddafi government. But this did not appear to impact his ability to bank at Credit Suisse: Three accounts, opened in 1988 and 1991, remained open. A fourth was opened in his name, along with three others including two family members, in 1999.
Tatanaki told OCCRP his lobbying had been legal and was not meant to promote Gaddafi or his regime, but rather to help the Libyan people, who were bearing the brunt of the sanctions.
After the U.N. lifted sanctions on Libya in 2003, Tatanaki continued funding lobbying efforts as the country sought to rebrand itself. In 2007, it was announced that he would help finance a government effort, led by Gaddafi’s son Saif , to turn the ancient city of Cyrene, into an “eco-tourism” center. (The project never got off the ground, and it is not clear how much, if any, money was actually provided.)
In 2008, Tatanaki financed another pro-Libya lobbying campaign. He signed a contract with the U.S. consultancy Brown Lloyd James in January that year, agreeing to pay $35,000 a month. In exchange, the company said it helped “Libyan nationals” contact U.S. politicians and academics, and helped Saif Al- Gaddafi organize student exchange and research programs.
In another filing, the company said it advised on an op-ed by Gaddafi and helped arrange the dictator’s notorious 2009 visit to New York City to attend the U.N. General Assembly, where he tore up a copy of the U.N. charter. Brown Lloyd James later said it received over $1.25 million from the Libyan mission to the U.N.