Prosecutors fly to Libya to freeze Gaddafi's Swiss assets

 

Swiss officials have gone into Libya to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) freeze the Gaddafi regime's assets in their tax haven.

The NTC is trying to trace billions of dollars that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed on Thursday, has siphoned off during his 42-year rule. Much of this is suspected to have been hidden in Switzerland.

A corporate investigations source said: "The Swiss prosecutors are there to help the authorities fill out forms to identify and freeze the Gaddafi assets. They need to be there as it's incredibly complicated to understand what paperwork needs to be done."

It is thought that the prosecutors, most likely from the canton of Berne, arrived earlier this month and have already identified and frozen in the region of $400m (£250m) of the former regime's assets.

However, this is only a fraction of what Col Gaddafi is believed to have squirreled away. There is a huge discrepancy between oil revenues and government expenditure over recent year. Experts have put a conservative figure of $80bn of hidden money among the regimes of North African states.

The source added: "It [the money] will be extremely well hidden through massive networks of trustees and offshore operations. There is a huge amount of collaboration, especially from the Swiss as they hated Gaddafi."

The move is part of a huge effort to untangle all of the Libyan dictator's complicated assets around the world. The most open assets, such as the $70bn Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), have already been frozen.

The LIA owned stakes in a number of listed companies around the world, which were frozen shortly after the start of the revolution earlier this year to stop the Gaddafi's of finding funds to quash the rebels.

In the UK, the most high-profile stake was the 3.27 per cent shareholding in Financial Times owner Pearson. A spokesman for Pearson said: "We are monitoring the situation closely, and once the relevant sanctions are lifted, Pearson will take the necessary steps to ensure that the shares and any dividends paid into a blocked account are unfrozen as soon as possible. Pearson has long made clear that it hopes these assets can be used for the benefit of the Libyan people as quickly as possible."

Sources among the world's biggest banknote-making companies also said that the NTC had contacted them through North African agents to develop new currency. Col Gaddafi's face appears on many cutrrent dinar notes.

A source said: "The NTC reached out to us about looking to change the currency about two or three weeks ago. They're talking about fresh notes – a new look. They might want to look at something based around the date of independence."

Around six notemakers are thought to have been approached, though this would cover most of the world's suppliers as it is a highly consolidated market. De La Rue, the British group that owns the older banknote printing operations of the Bank of England, is thought to have been asked to consider possible designs.

De La Rue has an interesting history with Libya. Earlier this year the government ordered a stash of new notes from the company, which was seized aboard a ship on its way to Tripoli.

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