Diplomats from the Libyan regime attempted to carry out a "fire sale" of £100m of houses, limousines and electronic equipment in London after being ordered to leave Britain by the Government, it was claimed last night.
British officials and Libyan opposition leaders said Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's envoys tried to sell off "anything that was not nailed down" at the missions' buildings, under instructions from Tripoli, to raise funds for the embattled regime.
Removal vans pulled up outside the Libyan embassy and consulate in Knightsbridge hours after their diplomats were given three days to leave the UK. Some staff, who subsequently defected to the rebels who took over the legation, were so worried about what was happening that they hid keys to prevent vehicles being taken away.
Libyan opposition officials in London claimed that two regime diplomats in particular had been trying to sell properties, including nine houses in central London, at vastly reduced prices and that smaller items, including computers, had disappeared. Similar "stripping" is said to have taken place at other missions which changed hands.
A British official said: "The pressure is starting to tell. We understand that across the region Libyan embassies are engaged in fire sales of assets in order to raise money for the cash-strapped Tripoli regime."
A Libyan opposition source said smaller items from the embassy were sold but the money had disappeared into private bank accounts. It has not been possible, however, to independently verify the claims by the UK and opposition officials. The Tripoli regime insists Britain and other countries are acting illegally in handing over Libyan assets to the rebels.
The UK official added that Colonel Gaddafi was "increasingly desperate" and a "tipping point" was being reached. The same declaration has been made since the start of the civil war six months ago.
The opposition administration in Benghazi, which was dismissed by its leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil after the murder of its military chief Abdel Fatah Younes last month, is due to start re-forming next week.Reuse content