The Competition – Libya and its Fortune Hunters
One source of competition for the Washington African Consulting Group (WACG) is the Malta-based Sam Serj (SS) company in Tripoli led by Taha Buishi. SS advertises itself as a Libyan and African marketing company active in dealing with large projects in the following fields: oil and gas trade, petrochemical products and raw material trading. SS also claims to provide oil and gas consulting services and consulting services for large construction projects in Libya. SS also purports to provide guidance for investing in Libya. SS declares that it can provide financing, legal advice and logistic services as well as sea communications to connect to Libya as well as connections to the rest of the world for internet and phone services. I write this after correcting all the grammar and spelling errors on its web site. Other than such a description, SS offers no record of any of the above activities and no contact persons other than the general manager Taha Buishi. The company is, however, listed under recycle.africa.net as a scrap metal dealer, a frequent cover for an arms dealer. Whatever SS is, it does not advertise itself as having expertise in asset recovery.
Nevertheless, SS claims that it was appointed by Ali Zeidan, former Prime Minister, as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan government with a mandate to locate the assets and return the wealth to the people of Libya. Given that SS is based in Tripoli, one might have expected SS to claim it was backed by the Islamist General National Congress (GNC) protected by Libya Dawn and in rivalry with the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR) and its Council of Deputies (CoD). But that is not the case. For Ali Zeidan was chosen as Prime Minister by the CoD, though before the second civil war broke out in June 2014 between the new GNC based in Tripoli and the CoD that had been forced to retreat to Tobruk. Buishi contends that the appointment of SS was confirmed by Zeidan’s successor, Abdullah al-Thani, on 11 March 2014, but there is no written record that has been published confirming such an appointment or one by Ali Zeidan. WACG has such a document trail signed by the head of the National Board, the proper internationally-recognized authority for seeking the recovery of the assets.
If SS is based in Tripoli, it would have to have the support of the new GNC. But the GNC is not internationally-recognized. The CoD is. So SS claims such authority. But it is probably not the proper formal authority that will determine the outcome, since neither WACG nor SS is working in cooperation with UNCAC. Goaied charges SS with using bribes and payoffs to South Africans to obtain control of the stolen assets. And there certainly seems plenty of evidence that SS is working in close cooperation with important people in the South African government.
SS representatives met President Jacob Zuma of South Africa twice to discuss repatriation of the Libyan assets. On 7 December, 2014, Sam Serj sent a formal letter signed by Taha Buishi to both the ANC and South African president Zuma requesting that a task force directed by a bilateral Libyan-South African committee be set up to repatriate the funds. SS also requested support for a proposed US. $3-billion joint venture between Libya and South Africa as well as a claimed U.S. $270-million signed arms deal between the Libyan Ministry of Defense and SS.
It is important now to introduce another notorious character who may also keys to locating the stolen loot. Bashir Saleh Bashir (alias Bashir al-Shrkawi or al-Sharqawi), a former aide of and bagman for Gaddafi, was in charge of investments on behalf of the Gaddafi family in properties – primarily hotels (the Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg, the Centurion Lake Hotel in Pretoria, the Commodore and Portswood hotels in Cape Town, and the Kruger Park Lodge in Mpumalanga) – mineral resources and businesses as well as shares in other companies throughout Africa. Bashir Saleh made these investments as head of the Libyan African Portfolio, supposedly a Libyan sovereign wealth fund, but one solely under the personal control of Gaddafi. Bashir Saleh also served as Gaddafi’s go-between with France. Bashir Saleh should not be confused with Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who allegedly stole U.S. $32 to U.S.$60 billion during his 33 years in power.
On 25 February 2011, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13566 freezing all of Gaddafi’s assets, including the assets of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation and the Waatasemu Charity Association, because of the regime’s human rights abuses and use of violence against civilians. The freeze was intended to safeguard the assets of the people of Libya that the U.S. alleged had been expropriated by Gaddafi. As well, the U.S, asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants not only for Bashir Saleh, but also for: Ali Al-Mahmoudi al-Baghdadi, Prime Minister under Gaddafi; Khaled al-Tuhami, a Libyan General and Director of the Internal Security Office; Abd-Al-Hafid Mahmud al-Zulaytini, Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Planning and Finance, Finance Minister, Director and Deputy Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority; Shukri Ghanem, Libyan Oil Minister and Chairman of the National Oil Company of Libya; and Abdul Hafid Zlitni, Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Finance and Planning, Finance Minister and Director and Deputy Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority. On 8 April 2011, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added the above individuals to the Libya2 Specially Designated Nationals List. In addition to the senior government officials listed above, Gaddafi’s family members, including his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and his daughter, Aisha Gaddafi, were also designated for sanctions under E.O. 13566. Aside from these individuals and the enormous amount of other wealth hidden away, more than U.S. $34 billion in Government of Libya assets were frozen.
Though Saleh was captured in the first Libyan civil war, he escaped and was believed to have fled to France. The Sunday Times of Johannesburg also reported that Saleh had been seen several times in Johannesburg. Subsequently, Libyan authorities in Tobruk formally requested Saleh’s arrest and extradition from South Africa. Earlier, Interpol had issued a red notice against Saleh. In South Africa, the Justice Minister informed parliament that the Interpol Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant allowing immediate arrest. Instead, once a fugitive is detected, a provisional arrest warrant must be requested from Interpol along with proper original documentation to be shared between the competent authorities through diplomatic channels. Though such a request was made, confirming that Saleh had been spotted in South Africa, I have been unable to find out whether the arrest warrant was issued. In any case, an inspection of Interpol’s web site immediately indicates that a red notice required a prior arrest warrant and one was issued in the U.S. So South Africa already possesses the right to arrest Saleh.
The legal basis for a Red Notice is the arrest warrant (it must be based on a prior legal arrest warrant issued for a person wanted for prosecution) or a court order (issued for a person wanted to serve a sentence) issued by judicial authorities in the concerned country. The notice contains identification information about the subject person such as physical description, photographs and fingerprints if available, occupation, languages spoken and identity documents. The notice may also contain judicial information such as offense with which the person is charged, references to the relevant laws under which the charge is made or conviction was obtained, the maximum penalty that has been or can be imposed, the references of the arrest or of the sentence imposed by the court, and details of the countries from which the requesting country will seek the fugitive’s extradition.
Note that there is no extradition treaty in place between Libya and South Africa.
By following the activities of Bashir Saleh before the Libyan revolution, SS investigators claimed that Gaddafi stashed U.S $1 billion of the total stolen loot in cash, gold and diamonds in four South African banks and two security companies. – and that his bagman, Bashir Saleh, holds the core information for finding the loot. A key to SS contacts in South Africa was Tito Maleka. Maleka had once been the head of security at the headquarters in Johannesburg and in charge of the ANC’s intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering for several years. While undergoing a heart operation, he was dismissed after he started to assist SS and had been hauled before South Africa’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. However, Maleka has appealed his dismissal before a labour arbitrator. SS acknowledged Maleka’s assistance but insisted that he “never asked anything from the Libyan government for his co-operation on the matter.”
There is a third competitor in the field. The al-Hassi government in Tripoli hired Ari Ben Menashe of Dickens and Madson to lobby with the American government on its behalf. Of all the rogues involved in the recovery of Libyan assets, Menashe is by far the most interesting. Even more intriguing is the fact that the Islamist government in Tripoli would hire not only a Jew and an Israeli, but a former member of Mossad to get back the Libyan billions or trillions. Except not quite the Tripoli government. Ibrahim Jadhran, a thirty-one-year-old militia leader who had helped overthrow Gaddafi and had been a supporter of the Islamist government in Tripoli, went off on his own and seized five oil terminals in eastern Libya. Jadhran said he did so because he had been frustrated by the slow rate of reform and the corruption he observed.
Jadhran invited Menashe to Benghazi, the seat of al-Qaeda power in Libya, to meet with representatives of the new government of Cyrenaica with an appointed Prime Minister and cabinet that claims to support a federal system where the “provinces” would control regional taxation, security, natural resources and education. Menashe signed a contract for U.S. $2 million to gain political recognition for the Cyrenaica government from the Russian Federation and to strengthen the government’s military forces by obtaining grants for military equipment and training from various governments. The contract registered with the American body in charge of overseeing lobbyists reads, “we shall strive to provide you with economic aid by soliciting buyers for your oil when the need arises as well as tankers for the transport of oil.” It says nothing about the retrieval of the stolen assets, but everyone knows that U.S. $2 million is a pittance for Menashe and that the real score is in the hidden billions.
However, it is always difficult to know who Menashe really represents. When Zimbabwean-opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, came to his Montreal office (Menashe is now a Canadian) for his assistance, Menashe was then working for Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, as a lobbyist with international organizations, governments and media “in order to influence the creation of favourable policies to the government of Zimbabwe and the elimination or prevention of policies and laws unfavourable to the government of Zimbabwe,” according to the requisite filings in Washington. Tsvangirai did not know that. Menashe taped the interview and turned the tapes over to Mugabe who had Tsvangirai arrested upon his return. Though held in jail for over a year on charges of treason, the Zimbabwe courts found him innocent and interpreted the use of the word “extermination” as not intended to connote violence.
Menashe worked with the now infamous Canadian, Arthur Porter, a Canadian physician born in Freetown, Sierra Leone with an MD from Western University with a subsequent specialty in radiation oncology, who also became a hospital administrator after earning an M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee and certificates in Management from Harvard and the University of Toronto. In 2004, he became Director General and CEO of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and then, in 2008, was appointed by Prime Minister Harper as a member of the Privy Council of Canada with full security clearance for his appointment as Chair of the Canadian Security Review Committee (SIRC) that oversees CSIS, Canada’s version of the CIA.
In 2010, Menashe signed a secret contract receiving a Can. $200,000 retainer from Porter to deliver a Russian development grant worth U.S. $120 million to Sierra Leone through Porter’s private company. The deal went sour. Immediately after, the Bank of Montreal canceled Menashe’s account. Then he received notice that the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) was also giving notice that it no longer wished to do business with him. Two other banks followed suit. Menashe charged back with a suit against the banks alleging that they acted in concert and without due process, depriving him of the liquidity required to continue his business. Further, shortly after information came to light in The National Post that totally destroyed Arthur Porter’s career.
Porter resigned his position as Chief of the McGill University Health Centre and as chair of SIRC when he learned that he was being investigated for his involvement in a Can. $22.5 million kick-back scheme related to the construction of Montreal University Health Centre’s new Can. $1.3 billion hospital under the supervision of the SNC-Lavalin Group, the huge Quebec engineering firm that had been so deeply implicated in the Quebec construction scandal. On 27 May 2013, Porter was arrested in Panama on charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit government fraud, abuse of trust, secret commissions and laundering the proceeds of a crime based on an Interpol arrest warrant. Porter has been in jail for over two years, but has managed to avoid extradition on the grounds that he had not been informed of any charges within 60 days of his arrest as required under an Interpol arrest warrant. His wife Pamela Mattock Porter, however, returned to Canada and eventually offered a confession in return for time served.
In another instance, in 2010, after initial introductions several years earlier were made by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Griffiths Energy International Inc. (GEI) of Calgary, after several meetings in the Ambassador’s Washington home with GEI’s founding partner, Naeem Tyab, and, on one occasion, Chad’s oil minister, GEI signed a U.S. $2-million consulting agreement with Nouracham Niam, the wife of Chad’s then-ambassador to the U.S. and Canada, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, to “open doors” for the company in Chad. Through her help, Griffiths had obtained two oil blocks in southern Chad, but negotiations with the Chad government to go ahead on the exploration to exploit those blocks bogged down. After an introduction through Jacques Bouchard of Heenan Blaikie LLP, a very prominent Canadian law firm to which Chrétien is counsel, GEI hired Menashe to intervene with President Idriss Deby of Chad. Not only was GEI stranded on a sandbar with a right to explore in Chad but no ability to do so, GEI’s payment to Niam violated Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. GEI was eventually fined Can. $10.3million. Menashe’s consulting firm pulled out of the agreement on the basis that Griffith failed in its obligations of full disclosure. Menashe returned the money. How the RCMP first received information on the payoff is not clear.
The bottom line, of the three questionable agents in the race to recover the stolen loot, Menashe is by far the most experienced. After his service to Mossad, he went on to help ensure the election of Ronald Reagan in the fight against Jimmy Carter. He traces his résumé back to the election of Ronald Reagan for he was the agent who went to Tehran to persuade the government to continued holding the American hostages until after the election, thereby ensuring that Carter continue to bear the Scarlet letter of his inability to get the hostages returned while Reagan would enjoy the glory as part of his inauguration. Menashe was central in the Iran-Contra scandal and earlier in the plot to abduct Mordechai Vanunu from London and have him returned to Israel where Venunu spent decades in prison. Menashe’s apparent biggest handicap is that he has ostensibly been employed by the nominal government in Benghazi associated with al-Qaeda and, other than IS, least acceptable to Egypt, Russia and the U.S.
Menashe, probably like SS and even the principals of WACG, makes his big money as an arms dealer more than simply as a lobbyist. In 2010, he signed a contract with then-president François Bozize of the Central African Republic (CAR) to arrange a “gift” from the Russian Federation of U.S. $50 million worth of munitions, including 12 KA50 helicopters, necessary maintenance supplies and training. Menashe’s connections with Russia are significant since Russia has a fleet in the Mediterranean that could be used to block the transport of oil in tankers controlled by any, several or all of the competing factions in Libya. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has already indicated that Egypt “would welcome contributions of any country that has abilities to provide such contributions,” and that “Russia plays an important role in this issue since it has a naval fleet in the Mediterranean.” The UN Security Council is considering whom to back and how. Should a naval blockade against Islamist militants in Libya be authorized? The participation of the Russian navy could be important. With Egypt’s backing, however, the Tobruk internationally-recognized government would seem to be in the front line for support.
A UNSC resolution endorsing a blockade would require both U.S. and Russian backing and partial lifting of the arms embargo. Thus far, the U.S., Spain and several other UN Security Council members are considering whom to back and how. As a result, the 9 March proposal set before the UNSC to supply the Libyan government in Tobruk with arms and impose the blockades has been delayed. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, signaled that Moscow would support Security Council action proposed by Egypt “to increase the efforts to combat the terrorist threat coming from Libya.” Lavrov had vocally denounced the killing of the 21 Coptic Christians by IS and effectively supported Egypt’s retaliation.
Given Russian behaviour in the Ukraine, Washington seems reluctant to help enhance Russia’s naval power, but, as argued by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after meeting Putin in Moscow, “Russia’s role can be decisive.” “Without Russia it is much more complicated to find a point of equilibrium.” However, it is difficult to see how NATO-Russian naval cooperation could be restored at the present time, though Moscow’s past involvement in a multilateral counter-piracy task force in the Arabian Sea may serve as a precedent. However, just as Iraq is coordinating the implicit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in combating IS, Egypt, with its own significant navy, could perform the same role with respect to Russia and Europe/U.S.
The bottom line is that which of the political contenders for ruling Libya and which agency gets the upper hand in the quest for Libyan’s stolen wealth, will depend to a great extent on Egypt and the major international power brokers. The HoR in Tobruk, though cornered, has the services of a very determined general, the best international connections that can supply arms, but seems to have hired the least able agent to work on its behalf to recover the monies. However, since WACG seems to have an inside track with the U.S. government, its total inexperience in this high stakes poker game may be irrelevant as would SS’s seeming inside track with South African officials, though the firing of Maleka may indicate that SS purported support by at least one of the governments in Libya may be irrelevant.