Bashir Saleh.
Bashir Saleh.

Gaddafi’s banker eyes SA haven

By Fiona Forde Time of article published Apr 21, 2013

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Bashir Saleh, the former right-hand-man of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the money man of the former regime, is reported to have sought asylum in South Africa.

According to a number of government insiders, business people and sources close to the process, Saleh, a familiar face in Joburg circles, filed his application with the Department of Home Affairs last year.

However, the department refused to confirm or deny his application.

Such processes are confidential for good reason - “people who apply for asylum do so because they fear for their lives and disclosing whether a person has applied or not would be grossly negligent”, Ronnie Mamoepa, the department’s spokesman, said yesterday.

Libya’s foreign assets, which were owned by the Libyan Investment Authority, are valued at about $80 billion (R700bn) but are frozen in most, though not all, jurisdictions.

This has prompted a race among the world’s top law firms to try to unlock them on behalf of the new Libyan government, for a respectable fee in return.

However, the real value of the foreign assets is believed to be much greater, since not all of them were frozen when the revolution began because not everyone knew where the bounties were stashed or some countries refused to comply with the asset freeze.

When it comes to the Africa investment portfolio, Saleh is a key player. He ran the multibillion-rand fund on the continent.

He also managed the Gaddafi family’s considerable private funds and assets that are held in Africa and elsewhere.

“And make no mistake about Bashir. His personal wealth is enormous,” one close aide said.

Though he is wanted by the Libyan government, and is named on the US sanctions list, Saleh was a prominent guest at last month’s Brics summit in Durban where he mixed freely with delegates from the continent in the foyer of the Hilton hotel and at other conference venues.

His presence at the summit has raised questions, though, with one observer asking: “Is there not a link between Saleh and the future Brics bank (which was proposed at last month’s summit)?

“Think about it. They need money for the bank. He has lots of it and needs a place to clean it. They need each other,” he said.

Saleh also attended the ANC’s centenary dinner in Mangaung in January 2012 where he rubbed shoulders with senior party delegates in a relaxed manner.

This was not long after he had fled Libya.

Though Saleh tells friends and acquaintances that he “left the country legally”, it followed an unexplained escape from the rebels who captured him after the Battle of Tripoli in August 2011.

Who facilitated his release, when and why is still unknown.

The former chief of staff later resurfaced in neighbouring Niger where he was appointed an adviser to President Mahamadou Issoufou.

That position, of course, came with a diplomatic passport.

Though his appointment was rescinded a short while later when it sparked tension with Libya, it is unclear whether he still travels on the diplomatic passport that would grant him ease of movement across borders and raise fewer questions at border entries.

After Niger, where Gaddafi’s fugitive son Saadi is still biding his time, Saleh moved to France, by which time he had an international arrest warrant hanging over his head.

When Libya demanded his extradition, France’s then president Nicolas Sarkozy – alleged to have been a major benefactor of the Gaddafi regime – said he would hand Saleh over, but pointed out that “the decision for him to be in France was taken after consultation with the Libyan authorities”.

Some time after that, Saleh – who had appeared on Interpol as Bashir al-Shrkawi, a posting that was confirmed as authentic by Saleh’s lawyer to news agency AFP – was erased from the wanted list, for reasons that the Sunday Tribune has been unable to ascertain.

A frequent visitor to South Africa, Saleh also often travels to Swaziland.

Sources say his wealth - in cash and gold - has followed him to the neighbouring kingdom, though the Sunday Tribune was unable to confirm this.

Saleh was reportedly assisted in his Home Affairs application by Julie Mohamed, the friend and former attorney of President Jacob Zuma who drew up the “revolving loan” agreement between Zuma and Schabir Shaik in 1999, a loan that later formed part of Zuma’s legal woes.

Though Mahomed had agreed to respond to questions, she did not do so by the time of going to print. - Sunday Tribune

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