'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya, the Kleptocracy 

No wonder Richard Perle, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi considered it important to establish a connection to Muammar Gaddafi:

Libya has proven oil reserves of 44 billion barrels, the largest in Africa, according to the International Energy Agency.

The country has used this burgeoning oil wealth to invest close to $100bn (£61.6bn) around the world since economic sanctions were lifted in 2004.

Libya's overseas investments include a portfolio of UK properties as well as a 3% stake in Pearson Group, which makes it one of the biggest shareholders in the owner of the Financial Times.

The Libyan Investment Authority is the country's main financial vehicle, with an estimated $70bn of assets, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. In June 2009 it paid £155m for Portman House, a 146,550 square foot shopping complex on Oxford Street which houses retailers including Boots and New Look. Five months later the LIA spent £120m on an office at 14 Cornhill – opposite the Bank of England – and in September 2010 Libya set up a joint venture to develop a hotel and retail complex in Maple Cross, Hertfordshire.

The LIA, set up in 2006, has also made a series of investments in Italy, where prime minister Silvio Berlusconi enjoys a close relationship with Gaddafi. Libya owns about 2% of Fiat, 7.5% of Juventus Football Club and has a 2% stake in – and joint venture with – Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica. It owns 7.5% of UniCredit, one of Italy's largest banks, and is a shareholder in Fortis, the Belgian-Dutch bank.

Libya has also made investments through other state vehicles, such as the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, which was set up in 2006 and is worth an estimated $8bn, according to the Sovereign Wealth Institute. This entity is behind FM Capital Partners, a hedge fund set up last year in Knightsbridge to execute a range of investments.

Another Libyan fund, known as the Long Term Asset Portfolio, was set up in 1982 and has an estimated $10bn, which is mainly invested in property and investment funds operated by other banks.

In addition, Libya's ruling elite – led by Gaddafi – has untold billions of dollars of funds around the world, according to Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank. This is a country that is so un-transparent I couldn't even begin to guess just how much money the ruling elite has [but] I would be very surprised if it didn't run into billions, Newton said.

Given that Libya has, by and large, been ignored by both the commercial and alternative media in the US, the scope of the activities of the kleptocracy are truly amazing. It provides us with an insight as to the exponentially greater investment activities of Sunni kingdoms in the Gulf, and the fear that will envelop global financial markests if substantial protests erupt there. Meanwhile, as for Libya, if the populace prevails, then, perhaps, the country's tremendous oil wealth can be used to benefit them.

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