The Tuesday Podcast: The Finance Minister Who Robbed A Bank

Ali Tarhouni, finance minister for the Libyan opposition, was stripped of his Libyan citizenship in 1973 because of his pro-democratic leanings. He returned home after nearly 40 years away to help with the anti-Gadhafi movement.
Peter Breslow/NPR

On today's Planet Money, we talk to Ali Tarhouni.

He fled Libya 40 years ago after speaking out against Moammar Gadhafi. "I was given a choice to leave the country or go to jail," he says. His name wound up on a Gadhafi hit list in the 1980s.

His life settled down over the years, though, and he landed a job teaching microeconomics at the University of Washington. As of a few months ago, he says, his biggest daily decision was what to have for lunch.

But when the civil war started in Libya, Tarhouni returned home and quickly became the finance minister for the anti-Gadhafi forces. His job, among other things, is to figure out how to get money for the rebels.

The first place wanted to look: The central bank. But he couldn't get in, because the rebels didn't have all the keys.

There's a branch of the central bank in Benghazi ... We had to see if there's cash, and it turned out there are three keys for it. We had two, and one was in Tripoli ... So I issued an order basically to rob the central bank.

So how did he pull it off?

Basically, dug a hole. They were thinking about dynamiting the thing. But we were afraid whatever currency we have there would burn. The money I found was about ... 500 million dinars.

That's about $200 million. Not a bad start, but not enough to fund the revolution. Next step: Try to get at the money Gadhafi stashed in banks around the world.

Download the podcast, or subscribe. Music: Andrew Bird's "Fake Palindrome." Find us:Twitter/ Facebook.

For more:

Check out a profile of Tarhouni that aired recently on All Things Considered.

Listen to our podcast, "The Difference Between Egypt And Libya"



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