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Libya: A Real World Syriana

A curtain is slowly getting drawn back on the death of Shokri Ghanem, the former head of the Libyan oil industry found floating in the Danube River last month. Rumors have surfaced that Ghanem was perhaps speaking with former rebels curious about what he might've known about deals with foreign entities that made the Gadhafi family rich from the country's oil reserves. While nothing is certain, talks of a global energy mafia and investigations into the various dealings of energy companies working in Libya certainly make, at the very least, a compelling crime drama.

Austrian officials in late April found the body of the former OPEC delegate and one-time head of Libya's state-run National Oil. Corp. in the Danube River in Vienna. By early May, prosecutors in Libya said they had wanted to bring Ghanem in for questioning regarding allegations the NOC was used by the Gadhafi family as something of a personal bank. Untold, and untraced, riches may help prosecutors in Libya bring Saif al-Islam, Moammar Gadhafi's son, to justice. With a doctorate from Tufts University, it's said that Ghanem helped Saif al-Islam write his thesis for his own PhD at the London School of Economics.

A few short weeks into the rebellion last year, Gadhafi had said Western oil companies might not have much of a future in Libya. The late dictator was apparently leaning toward energy companies in China, where economic concerns and international affairs rarely mix. After it became apparent that it was Gadhafi's future that was in jeopardy, European energy companies were among the first to start moving workers back into the country. Later, shuffling in the interim government in Tripoli brought former Eni adviser Abdulrahman Ben Yezza into the Oil Ministry. Ben Yezza's role was ostensibly meant to reinvigorate the Libyan oil sector and he was said to be at odds with Ghanem, who had by then defected.

In early April, Eni had revealed it was under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly making illegal payments to Libyan officials from 2008 to 2011, certainly well within Ghanem's tenure. That's no smoking guns in terms of Ghanem's death, but it does lend credibility to a report by Global Witness on what is said to be "murky" practices in the Libyan oil sector.

A Gadhafi critic suggested there may be something of a international energy mafia at work in the death of Ghanem. While such claims are usually best left in the files of the conspiracy theorists, as the dust settles in Tripoli, last year's saga, which left one of the world's longest tenured dictators dead at the hands of his own people, is starting to look more and more like a post-Cold War world only Tom Clancy could envision.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

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  • anonymous on May 15 2012 said:
    No doubt that could get sticky for anyone who had their hands in past Libyan oil deals.

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