WASHINGTON – Moammar Gadhafi secretly salted away more than $200 billion in bank accounts, real estate and corporate investments around the world before he was killed, about $30,000 for every Libyan citizen and double the amount that Western governments previously had suspected, according to senior Libyan officials.
The new estimates of the deposed dictator’s hidden cash, gold reserves and investments are “staggering,” one person who has studied detailed records of the asset search said Friday. “No one truly appreciated the scope of it.”
If the values prove accurate, Gadhafi will go down in history as one of the most rapacious as well as one of the most bizarre world leaders, on a scale with the late Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire or the late Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.
Gadhafi’s death after he was captured Thursday outside his birthplace, the coastal town of Sirte, not only all but ended the armed uprising that erupted in February. Revelation of the stunning size of the portfolio may stir anger among Libya’s 6.5 million people – about one-third of whom live in poverty.
Though Gadhafi’s foreign investments would seem to offer a bonanza for the transitional government, it is struggling to reclaim the money because of legal barriers created by a U.N. freeze on Libyan assets and national laws designed to ensure seized assets are only released to the legal owner.
U.S. and European authorities said Friday that they intended to quickly hand over frozen assets to the transitional Libyan government. But so far, the U.N. has authorized release of only $1.5 billion from accounts in the U.S., and the Obama administration has turned over $700 million of that amount, said Marti Adams, a Treasury Department spokeswoman.
Some African nations were reluctant to freeze Libyan accounts at all because of their loyalty to Gadhafi. Others feared that freezing Libyan assets could hurt their domestic economies as bills and workers went unpaid.
During his 42 years in power, Gadhafi steered aid and investment to benefit his own family and tribe, but denied support for much of the country, especially the eastern region that historically resisted his family’s despotic grip on power.
Obama administration officials were stunned last spring when they found $37 billion in Libyan regime accounts and investments in the United States, and they quickly froze the assets before Gadhafi or his aides could move them.
Governments in France, Italy, England and Germany seized control of another $30 billion or so. Investigators estimated that Gadhafi had stashed perhaps another $30 billion elsewhere in the world, for a total of about $100 billion.
But subsequent investigations by American, European and Libyan authorities determined that Gadhafi secretly sent tens of billions more abroad over the years and made sometimes lucrative investments in nearly every major country, including much of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, officials said Friday.
Most of the money was under the name of government institutions such as the Central Bank of Libya, the Libyan Investment Authority, the Libyan Foreign Bank, the Libyan National Oil Corp. and the Libya African Investment Portfolio. But investigators said Gadhafi and his family members could access any of the money if they chose to.