Rowland briefs Gaddafi

BTiny Rowland visited Tripoli earlier this month to brief Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on Lonrho's plans for its Metropole hotel subsidiary, which is one third owned by the Libyans.

But last night the international trading group's co-chief executive, who is leaving the board shortly, denied there had been any talk about Libya taking a share stake in Lonrho itself through the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co.

Lafico bought its stake in the Metropole chain from Lonrho for £177m just before United Nations sanctions were announced against Libyan terrorism.

Any new share dealings with Libya would be illegal under the sanctions, which would be enforced in the UK by the Bank of England.

Mr Rowland said "Knowing the position of the Bank of England better than anyone else, having done the previous deal, I obviously felt a moral obligation to keep them (Libya) informed about our interests in hotels.''

The Libyans had invited him over because they were upset at not being informed what was happening. He said he told them that nothing had actually been done about setting the flotation in motion.

Mr Rowland said he was "absolutely staggered" when a Lonrho associate showed him a copy of a press release from Lafico which claimed he was in negotiation over a co-operation deal. The release said this could include selling his 6 per cent stake in Lonrho to help the Libyans to build a 10 per cent holding.

He denied that he had any intention of selling his stake, adding: "I would never have suggested or discussed with them buying shares in Lonrho because it would have been against the law".

However, Mr Rowland was sure that as soon as sanctions were lifted, the Libyans would be interested in buying shares in Lonrho. He added that he was still certain that the Libyans were not to blame for the Lockerbie bombing.

There are two Libyan members of the Metropole board but they are not on the Lonrho board. A Lonrho source claimed the two were kept informed of the main board's thinking on Metropole.