Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The international community has responded to the violence taking place in Libya in a number of different ways, with countries condemning the Gaddafi regime’s brutal crackdown on protestors, and international bodies discussing sanctions, whilst some European and American voices have called on the assets of Colonel Gaddafi and his family to be frozen.
Chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, on Tuesday, called on the US to impose economic sanctions on Libya, including freezing the assets of the Libyan regime and imposing a travel ban.
The European Union has also discussed imposing sanctions on Libya, with the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, saying that the EU was prepared to do whatever was necessary to bring Gaddafi to account, adding that “the EU is ready…to take further measures.”
France and Germany have pushed for the EU to adopt restrictive measures against the Gaddafi regime, including possible travel restrictions, an arms embargo, and asset freezes.
This has raised questions about the extent of the Gaddafi family wealth, as well as its source, particularly as almost all industries in Libya have been under the control of the Gaddafi family for the past 42 years.
It is extremely difficult to accurately answer this question, particularly given the lack of transparency and documentation recording the sources of the Gaddafi family wealth, as well as the gap that exists between Libya’s vast oil revenues and government spending. Some experts have speculated that the Gaddafi family may have tens of billions of dollars of oil money hidden away in secret bank accounts in south-east Asia or the Gulf.
Specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, Professor Tim Niblock, told the British Guardian newspaper that there is a gap of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending, a shortfall that he anticipated contributed to the wealth of Colonel Gaddafi and his nine children.
Professor Niblock stressed the difficulty of ascertaining the extent of the Gaddafi family wealth, saying that “it is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places. But at the very least it would be several billion dollars, in whatever form, and it could potentially be a lot higher.”
However some US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks potentially reveal the dimensions of the Gaddafi family wealth. One diplomatic cable issued by the US embassy in Tripoli in May 2006 said that despite Gaddafi’s repeated criticism of governmental corruption, the Gaddafi family – which the cable called “Gaddafi Incorporated” – were making huge monetary gains by exploiting their position, and their control of the Libyan oil, gas, and telecommunication industries.
Another US diplomatic cable, dated 28 Jan 2009, by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz, said that despite Gaddafi attempting to portray himself of something of a philosopher-king uninvolved in the day-to-day running of the country, he “remains intimately involved in the regime’s most sensitive and critical portfolios.” The US Ambassador said that the Libyan leader’s “mastery of tactical maneuvering has kept him in power for nearly 40 years” adding that “the reality is that no potential successor currently enjoys sufficient credibility in his own right to maintain that delicate equilibrium” and that “[Gaddafi] is the architect of his own gilded cage and cannot yet relinquish day-to-day decision-making, even if he wants to.”
The diplomatic cables also described how the Gaddafi children have carved out spheres of influence in Libya.
Eldest son Muhammad Gaddafi, and the only child of Gaddafi’s first wife Fathia Khaled, has carved out a prominent position in the country’s telecommunication’s industry, heading the country’s Telecommunication Committee. He also heads the Libyan Olympic Committee which owns 40 percent of the Libyan Beverage Company which, in turn, is currently the Libyan joint-venture Coca-Cola franchise.
Gaddafi’s second son, and first child of his second wife Safia Farkash and his presumed heir-apparent, is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Saif al-Islam is the chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, he had been considered something of a reformer until he most recently appeared on Libyan national television defending his father and condemning the protestors, saying “we will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.” The WikiLeaks diplomatic cables reveal that Gaddafi’s ploy of using Saif al-Islam as the public face of the regime to the West may have backfired, as many Libyans now view him as a stooge to western interests.
Colonel Gaddafi’s third son, Al-Saadi, is known for his love of football, and is the head of the Libyan National Football Association, in addition to owning a share of the Libyan Al Ahli Football club, as well as Italian Seria A giants Juventus. The WikiLeaks diplomatic cables claimed that Al-Saadi was briefly an officer in a Special Forces unit and heads a military battalion; he has a turbulent past, including clashes with police in Italy. Diplomatic cables also included claims that he used military forces under his control to intimidate business rivals, whilst recent reports say that he was involved in crushing the protests in Benghazi.
As for Gaddafi’s fourth son, Muatassim, he is a Libyan national security adviser who until recently had been portrayed as something of a rising star. The WikiLeaks cables claimed that he had demanded 1.2 billion dollars from the chairman of Libya’s national oil corporation in 2009, reportedly to establish his own militia. Leaked diplomatic cables describe Muatassim Gaddafi as being not “intellectually curious”, with one Serbian ambassador describing him as being “not very bright”, however he is reported to enjoy the support of many of the regime’s old guard. The WikiLeaks cables also claimed that he does not get on with elder brother, Saif al-Islam.
Gaddafi’s fifth son, Hannibal, is a major player in Libya’s maritime shipping industry, officially holding the post of consult to the Management Committee of the General Libyan Maritime Transport Organization, which is responsible for shipping Libyan oil abroad. Hannibal has a long history of unstable behavior and his mistreatment of two servants at a Geneva hotel – which led to his arrest – resulted in a diplomatic schism between Switzerland and Libya. In December 2009, police were called to London’s Claridge’s hotel after staff heard screaming from Hannibal’s room. Hannibal’s wife, the model Aline Skaf, was found to have suffered facial injuries but no charges were brought against the Libyan leader’s son after she claimed to have sustained the injuries in a fall.
Gaddafi’s sixth son is Khamis is said to be a “well-respected” commander of a Special Forces unit – known as the 32nd Brigade – which “effectively serves as a regime protection unit.” This unit was reportedly involved in suppressing unrest in Benghazi.
The least publicly known of Gaddafi’s sons is Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, who reportedly lives in Munich, where it is said that he pursues ill-defined business interests, but spends much of his time partying. He was accused of arms smuggling in 2008, however charges against him were later dropped.
Gaddafi’s only daughter is Aisha, a lawyer, who is said to mediate family disputes. She runs a Libyan non-governmental organization and is said to be a favored child of the Libyan leader. She also holds the rank of Lieutenant General in the Libyan army and famously was a member of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s legal defense team.
Although the Gaddafi family has been described by leaked US diplomatic cables as being “famously fractious” and suffering from “internecine strife” with the Gaddafi children being played off against one another by their “mercurial” father, they have all been well taken care of, with one diplomatic cable saying “all of the Gaddafi children…are supposed to have income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.”