Tatanaki’s high-level connections extended beyond Libya. He struck up partnerships with prominent figures in Egypt after his family moved there in the 1970s. While studying in Britain, Tatanaki also mingled with members of the Emirati royal family. He even obtained an Emirati passport, along with ones from Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil.
In 2004, a scandal in Jordan showed how Tatanaki’s international connections could entangle him in allegations of cronyism.
The controversy began after it was announced that Kuwait had provided Jordan with a grant of 25,000 barrels of oil per day for a year. Kuwait’s Oil Minister at the time, Ahmed Al-Fahd, told media that the grant had been “offered to Jordan as a compensation for what it lost from Iraq’s oil during the war to liberate Iraq.”
What went unmentioned, however, was that the oil would not be used directly by Jordan, but sold on international markets. Jordanian officials later claimed this was necessary because the crude was too heavy to be refined in Jordan.
Nor was it revealed that the proceeds from selling the oil would not be deposited into Jordan’s treasury, but rather transferred into the U.S. account of a Delaware-registered company called Free Market Petroleum — whose shareholders included Tatanaki.
When a member of Kuwaiti parliament made this information public, it sparked an outcry in Kuwait and Jordan.
Jordanian and Kuwaiti officials have never said how much oil was sold or at what price. But with the price of oil ranging from about $30 to $40 per barrel at the time, a conservative estimate would put the grant’s value at more than $270 million per year.
Criticism of the deal, and suspicions about the ultimate destination of the funds were widely reported in Jordanian and Kuwaiti media. Members of Jordan’s parliament demanded to know why the payments were not made to Jordan’s central bank. The controversy eventually faded from headlines without a clear resolution.
Tatanaki said the deal had only been planned as a way of helping sell the oil on the Jordanians’ behalf, and that it was never completed. He said the lawmakers’ accusations against him were unfounded and “totally uncalled for” and that he had never bothered to answer them.
He confirmed he was a shareholder of Free Market Petroleum but did not give further details. The company, he said, was ultimately a “waste of money” because no actual deals came out of it. Asked if any payments had been made to the Free Market Petroleum account, he said: “As far as I recall, none.”
Tatanaki’s dealings at Credit Suisse continued after his role in the affair had been reported: Two accounts bearing Tatanaki’s name were opened in 2006, including one with two relatives. Another, which also included two relatives, was opened in 2009.
Half a world away, Free Market Petroleum was involved in a controversy involving similar allegations, this time regarding the sale of oil on behalf of Venezuela’s state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).
Under a three-year deal signed in January 2003, Free Market Petroleum was to sell 50,000 barrels per day of PDVSA oil to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Terms of the deal were not made public, but details were later leaked to the media.
The agreement, potentially worth more than $1 billion, provoked scrutiny in Venezuela and the U.S. for several reasons. PDVSA usually conducted sales directly with buyers, not through intermediaries, and Free Market Petroleum — which stood to make a significant profit — had no track record in Venezuela.
A draft copy of the deal, viewed by OCCRP, also included a clause allowing Free Market Petroleum to sell the crude to buyers other than the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with PDVSA’s approval.
The Venezuelan representative for the deal was former energy minister and PDVSA president Rafael Ramírez, who a 2016 congressional probe found responsible for corruption and malfeasance that cost PDVSA $11 billion.
The deal also attracted attention because of the involvement of Jack Kemp, a former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and the vice presidential candidate on Bob Dole’s 1996 ticket.
The draft contract listed Kemp as Free Market Petroleum’s signatory, and said its shareholders included American energy industry attorney William Hickman and Arturo Sarmiento, a Venezuelan businessman who became wealthy trading oil and importing scotch whiskey. (Neither responded to phone calls seeking comment.)
The Paradise Papers are a large set of documents from two offshore firms leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Documents from the Paradise Papers list the same men and Tatanaki as owners of a Bermuda company of the same name registered in 2003, this time alongside Jamal Ali Abdulla Sanad Al-Suwaidi, who later served as a political adviser to Mohamed bin Zayed when he was Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Tatanaki denied any suggestion of wrongdoing in the deal, which he said was never implemented. He emphasized that there were no sanctions or other prohibitions on dealing with Venezuela at the time. Suwaidi told OCCRP the information about him in the Paradise Papers was “incorrect,” and that this was the “first time I’ve heard the company’s name.”
In February 2011, the Arab Spring swept into Libya. Demonstrations quickly gave way to an armed uprising, backed by NATO air power.
As the rebels advanced, Tatanaki began to rebrand himself, first by establishing a charity called the Libya Al Hurra Foundation (“Free Libya” Foundation), registered in California with offices in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
In 2011, U.S. media outlet The Hill identified Tatanaki as the chief donor, and quoted Omar Khalifa, who described himself as an adviser to the foundation, as saying it had spent more than $20 million since the start of the revolution.
In October 2011, the Libya Al Hurra Foundation agreed to pay The Franklin Partnership, a Washington, D.C.,-based lobbying firm, $15,000 a month to inform U.S policymakers about the foundation’s work in Libya, including civil works, infrastructure development, and treating wounded Libyans in Egypt and Tunisia.
Tatanaki’s shift toward a more pro-revolution stance did not stop Libyan authorities, after Gaddafi’s fall, from getting him briefly listed on Interpol’s red list on fraud charges.
Interpol documents do not make it clear when or why Tatanaki was removed. Tatanaki said the charges resulted from a personal attack by a single official and had been cleared up “within a week” after he presented the relevant documents to authorities.
After Gaddafi’s fall, Libya was torn by fighting between rival militias. In May 2014, a rebel general, Khalifa Heftar, launched a campaign to assault pro-Islamist militias in Benghazi in eastern Libya. The campaign eventually grew into a full-fledged rebellion against the UN-recognized government in Tripoli in western Libya, splitting the country in two.
In media reports, Tatanaki was often described as a supporter of Heftar. In one interview, he was quoted as calling Heftar’s campaign the “future of Libya.” In August 2014, in an interview with Foreign Policy from his office in Dubai, he described himself as “partners” with the rebel general.
Tatanaki told OCCRP that he had not supported Heftar himself, but that he had backed the campaign in its early days because he saw it as a possible way to deal with the threat of Islamist militias and to rebuild Libyan institutions. In 2017, Tatanaki’s name also surfaced in connection with the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo.
According to documents obtained by the French media organization Mediapart, analyzed by European Investigative Collaborations and shared with OCCRP, Tatanaki signed a deal in 2015 to pay Ocampo $3 million over three years for consulting services. (The contract was concluded before the term was over and only the first installment of $750,000 was paid.)
Ocampo said he took the job in an effort to help Libyans. But the documents show he was informed about potentially problematic associations.
Several emails, for instance, state the relationship to Heftar and his regional supporters clearly. In one, Tatanaki’s employee Omar Khalifa, also told Ocampo they had been meeting with Egyptian “security apparatuses” and that “Hassan is in communication with the head of Egyptian national intelligence.”
In another email, one of Ocampo’s employees points out audio on YouTube, ostensibly of a wiretapped phone call of Saif Al-Gaddafi during the revolt’s early days, in which the dictator’s son says Tatanaki was still “doing his job” to support the regime. (Tatanaki said he was misrepresented in the call and that he had no contact with Saif Al-Islam at the time.)
In May 2015, a local military leader loyal to Heftar appeared on Tatanaki’s Libya Awalan TV channel and said that those who did not join Heftar would be “slaughtered” and “their women raped before their eyes.”
The video does not make it clear whether he was making a threat or referring to what Islamist militants would do if they were not stopped, but leaked emails show that Ocampo’s team viewed the incident as potentially problematic.
A few days afterward, Ocampo wrote Omar Khalifa to suggest developing a plan to protect Tatanaki from possible ICC prosecution, the documents show. The findings were reported widely, including in Der Spiegel, The Financial Times, and The Sunday Times.
Reached for comment, Ocampo said: “There are no wrongs to answer: Hassan Tatanaki a Libyan citizen asked for my advice on how international justice could help to end violence in his country.”
Ocampo said his data had been hacked amid a conflict between Gulf countries involving Libya and that “privileged information was used to conduct a baseless attack against Tatanaki’s reputation, my integrity, and the ICC.”
Three of Tatanaki’s Credit Suisse accounts were closed in the year after the uprising began. But at least two remained open well into the last decade, according to Suisse Secrets data.
Late last year, Tatanaki announced that he would enter Libya’s political fray and run for president in elections set for December.
His plane arrived at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport on November 22. For unclear reasons, he was briefly detained, but soon released. He submitted his application, and his name was included among a list of over 70 candidates.
Shortly after, another round of political deterioration and division in Libya led to the postponement of the elections again. Experts said Tatanaki’s chances of electoral success had always been slim at best. But that has not deterred him.
Asked if he was still planning to run for president he told OCCRP: “Absolutely.”
Data expertise was provided by OCCRP’s Data Team. Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.