Gaddafi-era Libyan oil chief drowned: Vienna police

April 30, 2012

Africa, International

Gaddafi-era Libyan oil chief drowned: Vienna police

 
By Michael Shields | Reuters
 
VIENNA (Reuters) – Libya’s former prime minister and oil minister Shokri Ghanem, a prominent defector from Muammar Gaddafi’s government, drowned in the River Danube, Vienna police said on Monday and a Libyan security source suggested he could have been murdered.
 
Ghanem’s fully-clothed body was found in the Danube in Vienna on Sunday, a few hundred meters from his home. According to a preliminary autopsy there were no indications of foul play or suicide, spokesman Roman Hahslinger told reporters.
 
A Libyan security source said they were investigating the death and believed he could have been pushed into the Danube by former Gaddafi agents.
 
His body was found at 8:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) on Sunday by a passerby near the entertainment area known as Copa Cagrana, where a footpath winds along the riverbank. He had spent Saturday evening watching television with his daughter.
 
The daughter noticed at around 10 a.m. that her father was no longer at home, police said.
The former Gaddafi confidant, who was also close to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, was privy to potentially damaging information including on oil deals with Western governments.
 
Ghanem, 69, had been chairman of Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) before defecting last year several months after opponents of Gaddafi had risen up against the Libyan leader and begun a rebellion.
 
Saad Djebbar, a UK-based Algerian lawyer who knew Ghanem and advised the Libyan government during the Lockerbie affair, told Reuters Ghanem was not the sort of man to kill himself. “It’s a very mysterious death,” he said.
 
“He was worried about the future course of politics in Libya but he would not be the kind of man for suicide. He was very well introduced internationally and had lots of connections.”.
 
“Shokri Ghanem definitely is one of the guys who knew a lot and was one of the most powerful guys in the old regime,” said David Bachmann, an Austrian Chamber of Commerce official based in Tripoli who knew Ghanem well.
 
As NOC chairman since 2006, Ghanem helped steer Libya’s oil policy and held the high-profile job of representing Libya at OPEC meetings, often visiting Vienna for meetings in that role.
After making a final break with the Gaddafi administration last year, Ghanem first appeared in Rome, saying he had defected because of the “unbearable violence” being used by government forces to try to put down the rebellion.
 
He had been working of late as an energy consultant in Vienna, where two daughters and their families also live.
Hahsinger said police had been unaware of any “concrete” threats against Ghanem.
Ghanem was still closely associated with Gaddafi’s rule by Libya’s new leaders and had ruled out returning home.
 
“Definitely there were people there who did not like him or who thought that he had stolen billions and now he is in safety in Vienna, having a nice life,” Bachmann said, adding it was common knowledge that Ghanem was often in Vienna.
 
Bachmann said he would not have been surprised to read that former Libyan rebels had taken revenge on Ghanem, but said Gaddafi allies could also have held a grudge.
 
“The problem was he was sitting between the chairs. For the old guys (in the Gaddafi regime) he was a defector, a kind of a rat. For the rebels he was also a rat because he did not defect early enough,” Bachmann said.
 
A woman who answered the phone at his home in a high-rise apartment block and identified herself as his daughter said: “Today we are still in a state of shock…right now I’m sorry I can’t talk more.”
 
Bachmann said Ghanem had many friends in Austria and Italy and spent time shuttling between Vienna and Rome while trying to lead a quiet life.
 
“He was 69 and was not a stupid guy. You figure out you have no political future and at a certain moment you say ‘OK, let’s finish this Libya story and try to enjoy my family and my grandkids and that’s it’.”
 
Ghanem, who studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston in the early 1970s, stood out among his fellow graduate students for his sharp intellect and infectious humour.
 
While American students there worried about soaring petrol prices during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, he eagerly explained and defended the Arab view of the emerging new world energy order.
 
At an alumni reunion in 2004, he impressed his former classmates with his insider’s account of the economic reforms he planned to introduce with the help of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, whom he had mentored at OPEC headquarters at a time when the now-captured son wanted to make a name for himself outside of Libya.
 
Ghanem said Saif al-Islam had persuaded his father to reform but he wasn’t sure how far reforms could go. He said he only wanted to stay in office as long as he could modernise the economy. If Gaddafi didn’t keep him, Ghanem said, he would happily retire to write one or two books on economics he had in mind.
____________________________________________________
 
Shukri Ghanem
 
 
Shukri Ghanem was educated in the United States. Ghanem graduated in English from Benghazi University, in eastern Libya, and his first job was as head of the translation unit with the state news agency. He later studied for a PhD at  the United States in International Economics and Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in suburban Boston, Massachusetts.
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is the oldest school in the United States dedicated solely to graduate studies in international affairs. Graduates include many foreign ministers, national and international ambassadors, international prime ministers, top U.S. military leaders, presidents and chairman of major U.S. and international companies, non-profit leaders and NGOs, top professor and top journalists.
 
Shukri Ghanem served as Libya’s prime minister from 2003 to 2006.
 
Ghanem was previously in charge of the OPEC secretariat, and was the Director of its Research Division.
 
He served as Deputy Director and Director of Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Economy in Libya
 
Ghanem was Director of Marketing of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC); was Director of Economic Affairs and Under Secretary and Chief Advisor at the Ministry of Petroleum in Libya.
 
In March 2006, Ghanem was appointed Chairman of Libya’s NOC.
He was considered to be one of Gaddafi’s inner circle before he defected during the uprising in June 2011.
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Video: Libya – George Bush Signs Executive Order To Lift Sanctions On Gaddaffi (Sept 20, 2004)

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U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice poses with Muammar Gaddafi before a meeting in Tripoli in September 2008. Photo: AFP

 
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Why Gaddafi’s Now a Good Guy
 
By SCOTT MACLEOD/CAIRO
TIME
 
When I called on Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in his Bedouin tent last year, he was at pains to explain how he and President Bush were on the same wavelength. In all his years as a bad boy in the eyes of the West, he said, Libya was simply doing what Bush did when he invaded Iraq. “Bush is saying that America is fighting for the triumph of freedom,” Gaddafi said between sips of tea. “When we were supporting liberation movements in the world, we were arguing that it was for the victory of freedom. We both agree. We were fighting for the cause of freedom.”
 
At the time, it may have sounded like the typical ramblings of the Libyan leader. But now, a year later, Gaddafi and Bush do apparently see eye to eye. On Monday, Gaddafi accomplished one of history’s great diplomatic turnarounds when Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice announced that the U.S. was restoring full diplomatic relations with Libya and held up the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as “a model” for others to follow. Rice attributed the ending of the U.S.’s long break in diplomatic relations to Gaddafi’s historic decision in 2003 to dismantle weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism as well as Libya’s “excellent cooperation in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.”
 
But as much as the Bush Administration would like to believe it, Gaddafi’s decision to come in from the cold was not simply a response to the war on terror and the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before that. In TIME interviews with key Libyan players, including three with Gaddafi going back before 9/11, it was clear that other important factors were also at work. Foremost among them was the collapse of the Soviet empire, which brought down Gaddafi’s once-powerful friends in capitals like Moscow, Prague and Bucharest. Another important factor was the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East, which resulted in extremist attacks in Libya and against Gaddafi personally.
 
Slowly but surely, Gaddafi became appalled by the impotence of his brother Arabs, who failed to come to his aid when the West imposed sanctions and who invited the U.S. into the region to settle the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Once Gaddafi’s Palestinian friends began negotiating with Israel, he began focusing on Libya’s African rather than Arab alliances. In 2001, he hosted the inaugural meeting of the new African Union.
 
By then, Gaddafi was looking hard for a way out of Libya’s isolation, which was hurting its vital petroleum industry; in fact, U.S. oil companies were lobbying hard from the mid 1990s for a rehabilitation of Libya, in order to be there first in the upgrading of its aging oil infrastructure. As American and international sanctions were taking their toll and the stagnation was slowly killing Gadfhafi’s regime, he offered a major gesture, turning Libyan intelligence agents over for trial in the downing of of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
 
It wasn’t too long ago when Gaddafi, not Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, was the enemy Washington loved to hate. The U.S. bombed Tripoli 20 years ago last month, in what amounted to an aerial assassination attempt on Gaddafi himself after President Reagan dubbed Gaddafi the “mad dog” of the Middle East. The Tripoli blitz came amid suspected Libyan involvement in a Berlin terrorist attack that killed two American servicemen. Gaddafi’s international isolation only grew two years later, after Libya was accused in the Lockerbie disaster. Two decades later, Saddam is gone from power, facing trial and possible execution for oppressing his own people, while Gaddafi is back in the good graces of the White House.
 
The Bush Administration has been quick to stress Libya’s comeback as a model that Iran and North Korea should now follow. But it may have been Gaddafi’s rogue pursuit of nuclear weapons, more than anything else, that made Rice’s announcement Monday possible. As Gaddafi sees it, Libya’s nuke program gave him some much-needed leverage in his dealings with Washington. The bargain gave each what they needed: Gaddafi is a pariah no more, and the Bush administration has a success story in the Middle East.
 
It’s not necessarily the complete success Bush may have had in mind. In citing Gaddafi as a model, Rice has signaled the Administration’s priority for security over the cause of freedom that both Gaddafi and Bush love to talk about. Even though Gaddafi has done little to loosen his dictatorship, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, among other statesmen, have already visited Libya to signal the West’s pleasure. President Bush, or his successor, could be next to visit the leader in his tent.
 
Gaddafi was right, it turns out, when he concluded our last interview in wonderment. “The world,” he said, “is changing so dramatically.”
 

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