A United State’s Embassy cable released by Wikileaks recently shed some light on how the ousted Libyan leader, Muammar Ghadaffi and his family ran the country like a private business empire. In the cable marked “S E C R E T TRIPOLI 000198”, vivid descriptions of the deposed leader’s double standard on issues bothering on corruption. Excerpts from the cable:
CLASSIFIED BY: Elizabeth Fritschle, Pol/Econ Chief, U.S. Liaison Office, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. Qadhafi often speaks out publicly against government corruption, but the politically-connected elite has direct access to lucrative business deals. This commercial access can easily be cut off when individuals fall out of favor. The Qadhafi family and other Jamahiriya political favorites profit from being able to manipulate the multi-layered and regularly shifting dynamics of governance mechanisms in Libya. They have strong interests in the oil and gas sector, telecommunications, infrastructure development, hotels, media distribution, and consumer goods distribution. The financial interests of Qadhafi and his key allies present both opportunites and challenges for reform efforts in Libya. Any reform is likely to be cyclical over the long-term. END SUMMARY
Saif’s Call For Freedom of the Press Equals Net Profit
2. (C) As with many other regimes, politically-connected members of the Libyan elite have direct access to lucrative business contracts. Qadhafi often speaks out publicly against government corruption and sometimes dismisses officials who are caught in gross improprieties. In some cases, it appears that falling out of favor politically can trigger the discovery of improprieties in business dealings that might not otherwise come to public attention. As reported reftel, Saif al-Islam’s One-Nine group will reportedly start marketing foreign publications in Libya in the near future. The Qadhafi Foundation, Saif’s quasi-NGO, is hailing the move as an example of freedom and reform in the Jamahiriya. XXXXXXXXXXXX The Qadhafi family will clearly accrue significant financial gains from having exclusive rights to distribute foreign press in Libya, as well as effective censorship over any troubling articles that might appear. The One-Nine group gets it name from the September 1, 1969 anniversary of the Muammar Qadhafi-led military coup that overthrew King Idris.
Oil and Gas Revenues Channeled to Qadhafis and Political Elite
3. (S) All of the Qadhafi children and favorites are supposed to have income streams from the National Oil Company and oil services subsidiaries. Saif is involved in oil services through One-Nine Petroleum and other Qadhafi family members and associates are believed to have large financial stakes in the Libyan Tamoil oil marketing company based in Europe and Oil Invest. AbdelMagid al-Mansuri, the former “director” of One-Nine Petroleum, was responsible for the ill-executed “U.S.-Libya Economic Forum” held at the Corinthia Hotel December 2004. The Forum was viewed as a blatant attempt to tie up lucrative percentage deals for Libyan elites looking for representative relationships with U.S. companies. During 2004, the internet-based publication Libya al-Yown distributed information tracing a large number of sweetheart deals to One-Nine’s Oil and Gas division XXXXXXXXXXXX in Scotland, home to a well-connected Libyan expatriate community. It is believed that millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates via the XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX
Aisha Competes with Saif on Charitable Activities and Broad Commercial Interests
4. (C) Dr. Aisha Muammar Al-Qadhafi, General Secretary of the Wa’atassemo Charity Society, is patron of the December 4-7, 2006 Infrastructure Libya: The International Exhibition and Forum for Libya’s Infrastructure and Economic Development implemented by the UK conference organizer Montgomery and Associates. Also listed as cooperating organizations are the General People’s Committee for Planning, the General Board of Infrastructure and Urban Development, and the Inspector General of Housing and Utilities. At the same time, there will be a U.S.-Libya Oil, Gas and Energy Exhibition and Forum at the same International Fairgrounds, also under Wa’atassemo sponsorship, and coordinated by U.S. company Nathan and Associates. Until recently, Aisha has been in the public eye based on charitable activities, sponsoring human rightsseminars and the situation in Iraq (with a distinct focus on the negative effects of the presence of U.S. and foreign troops), signing up for the international advisory board for Saddam Hussein’s defense strategy, and promoting social welfare for women and children. She now appears to be branching out into areas that will give her more direct connections with the energy and construction sectors, especially since the government has announced that housing development will the major focus of the 2006 budget distributions. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Aisha was actively looking to branch out into other areas, perhaps because of her recent marriage to a Qadhaf al-Dam with additional business interests. Aisha is also reported to have financial interests in the private St. James Clinic of Tripoli, one of the two most trustworthy medical facilities that supplement the unreliable health care available through public facilities. In addition to health care management and referrals to hospitals to Malta and elsewhere in Europe, the clinic has an extensive aesthetic surgery practice.
Competition Between Siblings led to Takeover of Coca Cola Plant
5. (C) The recent controversy over the Coca Cola plant in Tripoli also highlighted Qadhafi family involvement in commercial enterprise. While three different sons Saadi, Mohammed and Mutassim, were all rumored to be fighting at different points over who had the right to the representative license, the dispute was supposedly argued before the courts and resolved through mediation. The very twisted tale of the Coke franchise, reported in Tripoli 53, continues to confound the local business and diplomatic community attempts to ascertain exactly what interests are in play. One well-connected consumer goods distributor said that Qadhafi’s son Mutassim was involved in setting-up the Coca-Cola franchise held by the Egyptian Ka’Mur group during the late 1990s. XXXXXXXXXXXX Supposedly, Mutassim lost control of many of his personal Libyan business interests during the period of 2001 to 2005 when his brothers took advantage of his absence to put in place their own partnerships. Mutassim was recently spotted by Pol/Econ Chief arriving on a British Air flight at Tripoli International Airport, greeted by a small group of well wishers and protocol assistants with bouquets of flowers, then whisked off to the VIP arrivals lounge and into his vehicles without passing through customs or immigration. Qadhafi son Mohammed heads the Libyan Olympic Committee that now owns 40% of the Libyan Beverage Company, currently the Libyan joint venture Coca-Cola franchisee. The British Ambassador to Libya reported his sources attributed the resolution to a deal whereby Mohammed Al-Qadhafi was prevailed upon to relinquish his/Libyan Olympic Committee’s share of the joint venture and sign it over to the Libyan Pensions Fund. Another Ambassador chimed in that he heard it was sister Aisha Al-Qadhafi who mediated the dispute between the two brothers and got Mohammed out of the soda business. If Libyan government officials are asked about the Coca Cola case, the standard response is that the government was making sure that all the proper licenses and registrations were in place.
Telecommunications Controlled by Mohammed
6. (S) Mohammed, who has plenty to keep him busy through his control of the General Post and Telecommunications Committee, has major input over any telecomm or internet service. Frequent USLO requests over the last two years to meet with the GPTC have been ignored by the Libyan government, even requests for meetings with senior U.S. officials and Congressional delegations. Several U.S. companies are actively pursuing contracts to provide a much-needed upgrade to the local telecommunications network, but the Libyan government rejects any trade promotion activities for telecom through official government channels. Based on Colonel Qadhafi’s experience overthrowing King Idris and the recognized importance of controlling radio broadcasts in 1969, and the role of mobile phone networking during the 2006 Benghazi riots, the family would definitely want to preserve its strong control over the telecom sector.
New City Planned by Saadi
7. (S) Saadi is also branching out into infrastructure development. His functionaries contacted USLO public affairs section for publications in Arabic language on economic and commercial issues. Saadi’s staff then notified USLO that he planned to establish “a new city in the west of the country, in the area between Zwara and the Libyan-Tunisian border. The new city will be under the management and supervision of the Engineer al-Saadi al-Qadhafi.” As Saadi’s staffers frame the interest, “he wants information on how the U.S. can help with this matter.” That general area of coastline has an island that has been slated for tourist development in the last couple years without any subsequent action, perhaps because a large oil processing facility mars the view from the island, and also because outside investors can not get liquor licenses for hotels populated by foreign tourists. The Qadhafi family is already in the tourism business through the large percentage of ownership in the XXXXXXXXXXXX
Consumer Goods Distribution Controlled by Few Family Holding Groups
8. (C) Food distribution is also reportedly controlled by only four or five politically-connected families. There are no large western-style food markets in Libya. There is small western-style market in Tripoli and some smaller shops in the city that carry more imported items, but most of the neighbourhood shops go to the distribution warehouses controlled by the people with strong government ties. The consumer products distribution are largely controlled by three merchants, including the Husni Bey Group, a diversified holding company that runs a range of operations under the direction of Husni Bey’s children. Bey does not characterize his company as politically well-connected, but has learned to expand operations through key alliances and he knows how to work the system to his benefit. More importantly, he knows how to recover when his businesses get caught up in the financial interests of the more connected political elite. The Akida Group, run by the Akak family, is rumored to have close ties to the ruling regime and it runs a virtual monopoly over air conditioning equipment, heating units, and small appliances as the local LG agent.
9. (C) The government attempts during the 80s to instigate large socialist-style department stores failed; the shells of the state enterprises sit empty around Tripoli and other Libyan cities. (At least one is rumored to soon be rehabilitated as a modern shopping mall for privately owned stores.) Starting in the mid 90s, people were once again allowed to open small businesses. During Eid holidays, Libyan families buy new clothing to wear during the celebration and treat children to toys and sweets from small stores. The men tend to wear traditional embroidered wool robes produced locally or in Egypt or Syria, while women may indulge in new fashions imported from European or Asian manufacturers. During the January 2006 Eid, local women complained that the clothing variety available in the local shops was limited. Rumors circulating in Tripoli claimed that Qadhafi’s second wife, as well as his daughter Aisha, own or have financial interests in many of the new clothing stores opened in the post-sanctions era. XXXXXXXXXXXX Most of the garments in local stores are imported from China, Malaysia and India. Small boutiques have a limited supply of expensive goods imported from Europe, and these enterprises in particular seem to have the financial backing of people with strong ties to the ruling elite.
Qadhafi Incorporated Lifestyle
10. (C) Qadhafi himself keeps a low profile in Tripoli. The Bab al-Azizia compound has facilities for banquets and other public events, but it is not lavish in any way compared with the ostentation of the Gulf oil state families or Hariri clan. Qadhafi’s wife travels by chartered jet in Libya, with a motorcade of Mercedes waiting to pick her up at the airport and take her to the destination, but her movements are limited and discrete. She hosted a banquet for diplomatic women in the Bab al-Azizia compound on the occasion of the al-Fatah (Revolution) holiday in September that was festive but not extravagant. Since the family keeps a tight control on the media and most of the Qadhafi children spending excesses take place outside Libya, there is not much public reaction to the coffers of Qadhafi Inc. Compared to egregious pillaging of State coffers elsewhere in Africa, or the lavish spending of Gulf Arabs, the Libyans don’t see much to complain about in their leader’s lifestyle, as long as he does a good job of making sure other people get a piece of the pie. And when Libyans do complain, they are removed from access to financial rewards.
11. (S) The financial interests of Qadhafi and his key allies present opportunites and challenges for reform efforts in Libya. At a minimum, it seems safe to say that reform will have its ups and downs over the long-term, as individual, regime and national interests come into play. If and when foreign publications do become available in Libya, there will be a financial gain for Saif. At the same time, the family will still have control over monitoring what information is released to the public. Over the long term, demand for more outside information would inevitably create pressure for open access and more press freedom. Similarly, Libya has a stated commitment to moving forward with WTO accession and joining international financial organizations. But it is doing so on its own timetable, a slow timetable. Reported septel, the General People’s Congress just passed in April 2006 new agency and representation rules that run counter to WTO principles. While the General General People’s Committee for Economy and Trade has working groups actively revising legislation to prepare for WTO accession, it will take some time to reconcile all the different structures of the Jamahiriya government (translation: “State of the Masses”). Libyan government officials have been telling P/E Chief for 10 months that the WTO accession will be presented in Geneva “in a few weeks, that only the translation has to be finished.” Institutional development is very primitive and the Libyans have a cultural and social preference for elements of distributive economy, placing great value on financial rewards that flow from affiliation with regime leadership, security services etc. There was a shipment of BMWs delivered to the government in early 2006, for example, and it seems likely that the young men driving them around town got the vehicles “distributed” through their affilation with different government entities. With regard to reform partnership efforts, there are the greatest opportunities to promote positive change by engaging in the Central Bank’s efforts to establish banking controls and standards, partnering with the General People’s Committee for Manpower and Training on civil service reform, and cooperating with the General People’s Committee for Economy and Trade in its WTO accession efforts.