Qaddafi’s Western Friends

VALLETTA, MALTA – With Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in ruins and Qaddafi himself on the run, it is time to ponder just how he survived in power for so long. Greed for markets and money, it seems, often trumped the West’s supposed concern for basic human rights.

Major Western countries compromised themselves over Libya for decades. After all, Qaddafi survived President Ronald Reagan’s punitive 1986 bombing raid on his compound only because former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and former Maltese Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici tipped him off.

Craxi, of course, later found refuge in the embrace of another recently fallen Arab dictator, Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, when he fled Italy to escape imprisonment in 1992. Bonnici, for his part, continued cementing his ties with the Libyan dictator until the very end, through his association with – wait for it – the Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights.
Moral squalor also permeated Qaddafi’s international “rehabilitation” in the years just before the Arab Spring. According to many observers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s role in launching this process in 2004 was, almost from the start, motivated by a desire to do business with his regime.

And more than oil was at stake. According to an Associated Press report, citing Foreign Office statistics, Libya purchased from the United Kingdom “about £40 million ($55 million) worth of military and paramilitary equipment in the year ending September 30, 2010.” Qaddafi’s shopping list included “sniper rifles, bulletproof vehicles, crowd-control ammunition, and tear gas.” Certainly, that military hardware came in handy over the last six months.

According to the same AP report: “The Bush administration approved the sale of $3 million of materials to Libya in 2006 and $5.3 million in 2007. In 2008, Libya was allowed to import $46 million in armaments from the US. The approved goods included nearly 400 shipments of explosive and incendiary materials, 25,000 aircraft parts, 56,000 military electronics components and nearly 1,000 items of optical targeting and other guidance equipment.”

Nor was Germany immune to temptation. In 2004, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder inaugurated an oil well operated by the German company Wintershall in the Libyan Maghreb. Not to be outdone, French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed off to Libya in 2008 to sell nuclear technology to Qaddafi.

Italy imports 60% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas from Libya, and soon after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was re-elected in 2008, he pledged to pay Qaddafi’s regime €250 million a year for 20 years in exchange for Libya’s acceptance of all North African refugees seeking political asylum in Italy.

Somehow, it seems, Berlusconi’s name never fails to pop up when lucrative business transactions with Libya are discussed. Indeed, Berlusconi and Qaddafi have shared common personal business interests since 2009, when Lafitrade, a Qaddafi family company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a cinema production company which is 22% owned by Berlusconi’s company Fininvest.

The case of little Malta, a couple of hundred kilometers from Libya’s shores, could be just the tip of a much bigger iceberg of complicity. The Maltese government has just revealed that it froze Libyan government assets worth €377 million, of which €86 million belonged to the Qaddafi family or to entities in which they are majority stakeholders.

Where has all this money been invested – only in Maltese banks, or are there any business concerns also involved? And who are the Maltese partners? Are politicians involved?

These questions matter because Libyan institutions in Malta used to offer “aid” to Maltese politicians in exchange for promoting Qaddafi’s image. Last August 28, the pro-Christian Democratic newspaper Il-Mument revealed CIA documentation of direct financing by the Qaddafi regime for activities organized by the Malta Labor Party during the 1989 Bush-Gorbachev summit held in Malta.

The Labor Party’s former treasurer, Joe Sammut, is most often mentioned for his connection with Qaddafi. According to The New York Post, Sammut handled hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Mutassim Qaddafi, the Colonel’s son and former security chief. Sammut, it is said, was involved in organizing parties featuring Snoop Dog, Nelly Furtado, and Enrique Iglesias, among others, for the entertainment of Qaddafi’s sons.

And it is not only Malta Labor Party politicians who allegedly have had connections with the Qaddafi clan. Malta’s current European Union Commissioner, John Dalli, a former Christian Democrat MP and government minister, has openly admitted that he had “established a strong network at the political and executive levels” in Libya.

Qaddafi and his family have been spreading money around Europe for years, buying influence and a blind eye from governments to the regime’s human rights transgressions. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, one hopes, will one day bring Qaddafi, his family, and his minions to justice. But one should also hope that Libya’s new government will expose the links between Western politicians and the Qaddafi regime. At that point, the court of public opinion, at the very least, can render its judgement on their actions.

Arnold Cassola was Secretary-General of the European Green Party and a Member of Italy’s Parliament.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.