Gadhafi's Frozen Assets: $32 Billion And Counting

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks to supporters in Tripoli on Wednesday.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks to supporters in Tripoli on Wednesday. Ben Curtis/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Curtis/AP

This week tens of billions of dollars in assets belonging to Moammar Gadhafi, his family or perhaps the government of Libya were frozen. The United Nations and countries around the world, including the U.S., leveled the sanctions to punish Gadhafi for his violent crackdown on protesters.

To hear Gadhafi tell it, all this talk of his real estate holdings, investments and huge bank accounts is simply a Western conspiracy. "I have no assets and I don't take pride in keeping assets of American dollars," he told a rally of his supporters this week, according to an Al-Jazeera translation.

"If they are my personal accounts I am ready to have these accounts verified," he said. "My salary is only 465 dinars."

That's about $380, not much for the leader of an oil-rich nation.

But Adam Szubin, who's in charge of the financial sanctions office at the U.S. Treasury, has a much different assessment of Gadhafi's financial resources.

"It's obviously a pretty stunning figure," Szubin says, referring to the almost $32 billion in assets already frozen by U.S. authorities. And, he says, that number continues to grow.

"We're responding hourly to calls from institutions across the U.S. that are trying to verify or confirm whether they are holding government of Libya assets," Szubin adds.

But Szubin won't say exactly how or where the nearly $32 billion is invested. And the U.S. government won't say how much is in the Gadhafi clan's personal accounts, as opposed to Libyan government accounts.

J. Scott Carpenter, a Libya expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it's a distinction without a difference anyway. "The notion that there is some way to separate what is the family's from what is the state's is [a] nearly impossible task," Carpenter says.

One major vehicle for those global investments is the Libya Investment Authority, the country's sovereign wealth fund. The LIA is estimated to control around $70 billion.

The Gadhafi/Libya investments in Europe are more well-known than those in the U.S. For instance, the LIA and Libya's central bank own more than 7 percent of one of Italy's largest banks, UniCredit. Another entity, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co., owns 7.5 percent of a major Italian soccer club.

Among other investments: a stake in a luxury hotel project overlooking Trafalgar Square in London and a small share of Pearson PLC, which publishes the Financial Times and The Economist. Carpenter says advancing Libya's interests and burnishing its reputation probably trumped profits as investment goals.

"I don't know that the investments were seen to be necessarily making money for the Libyan economy, but that would somehow be used to advance Libya's foreign policy or political interest as a state," Carpenter says.

Gadhafi's U.S. investments are more opaque than those in Europe. Reportedly, major New York banks including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs hold some Libyan assets. Also, officials of the politically connected private equity firm The Carlyle Group have had meetings with Libyan officials, including one of Gadhafi's sons. It's not clear whether they ultimately did business.

Carlyle's managing director, David Rubenstein, said this week that Moammar Gadhafi himself was not an investor. Nevertheless, Carpenter says, Gadhafi's interest in working with The Carlyle Group, which once employed the first President Bush and former British Prime Minister John Major, is instructive.

"I'm sure if you're looking for partners and you have $30 billion to spend, you want it to benefit those who might be able to help you later on to, for instance, get off of the terrorist list, or end the sanction regimes, or protect you in moments like this when you're under pressure domestically," Carpenter says.

Given Gadhafi's bloody crackdown, it's unlikely he'll find any business partners willing to go to bat for him now.

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