Libyan government abducts anticorruption official in fund dispute

Libyan gov’t abducts anticorruption official in fund dispute

One of Libya’s top anti-corruption officials was abducted by a militia tied to the interior ministry in the capital, the audit bureau said Monday, the latest twist in a long-running contest over the country’s vast wealth.

The abduction of Reda Gergab, the audit bureau’s administrative director, brought deep tensions in the Tripoli-based administration to the surface at a time of worsening economic crisis. The audit bureau is an independent body appointed by the Libyan parliament in Tripoli and is a rare check on the misappropriation of funds in the oil-rich country.

“It is regrettable that the body entrusted by the community to implement the law is violating it,” the audit bureau said in a statement, accusing the interior ministry of “forcibly disappearing” Gergab to prevent him from uncovering financial irregularities and blocking the ministry’s large and suspicious transactions.

Although the Tripoli-based government was set up by the U.N. and recognized by Western countries, many of its institutions, including the interior ministry, are in reality staffed and controlled by unruly militias.

The interior ministry acknowledged Gergab’s detention and sought to justify it, arguing that the public health crisis caused by COVID-19 required the dispensation of urgent funds “to rescue the Libyan people” and that the government is merely “carrying out responsibilities” undermined by the anticorruption agency.

“We have noticed that the audit bureau is not performing its role according to the law,” the ministry said, referring to the body’s review of government operations amid accusations of financial wrongdoing. “The government will never submit to political blackmail and arm-twisting.”

Power in Libya is divided between the weak Tripoli government, supported by Turkey and a range of local militias, and rival eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter. Although Hifter rules over most of Libya’s east and south, the Tripoli administration holds a distinct advantage: control over the Libyan Central Bank, which contains the country’s oil revenues and billions of dollars in foreign reserves.

But both of those assets — oil and money — have been threatened. Earlier this year, tribal groups allied with Hifter brought the critical oil industry to a halt, choking off some 95% of the country’s income. The blockade, an intense challenge to the Tripoli government’s financial control, came as Hifter’s allies accused the government of exploiting the country’s shared oil wealth to pay Syrian mercenaries deployed by Turkey to defend the capital.

Hifter’s forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, have been trying to capture Tripoli for the past year. The war has settled into a bloody stalemate and sunk the country further into chaos.

The crash in global oil prices because of the pandemic threatens to further drain Libya’s foreign reserves as the government struggles to stave off financial catastrophe.

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