Exclusive: Libya's Ghanem may be on secret mission for Gaddafi

LONDON Tue May 24, 2011 7:00am EDT

Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), holds a news conference in Tripoli March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), holds a news conference in Tripoli March 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny

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LONDON (Reuters) - Top Libyan oil official Shokri Ghanem has not defected, contrary to widespread reports, and is secretly working for Muammar Gaddafi to maintain ties with big oil companies, sources at western firms said.

A Libyan opposition source and a source at a major international oil company said Ghanem, one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's government, had invited representatives of oil companies to meet him last week in Tunisia, to discuss oil contracts.

"There were some invitations or advances but we did not accept," said the source at a western oil company. "He was holding court in some form."

A third source, at another western oil company, with operations in Libya, said the reports that Ghanem had deserted were incorrect.

"It is completely false that Shokri Ghanem is no longer working for Gaddafi's government," the source said.

Ghanem himself could not be contacted to comment.

Companies have been unable to conduct operations in Libya due to the uprising against the regime and military strikes by western powers, which means they are not in compliance with the obligations in their contracts.

Ghanem wanted to reassure the groups that contracts would not be voided because of this, and would be respected in future, the opposition source said.

This waiver could allow companies to return quickly to Libya, which is reliant on oil revenues, should Gaddafi re-establish control and have international sanctions lifted.

Were the western oil companies to stay away from Libya for a protracted period, the country would struggle to rebuild production, which has been cut to a trickle by the violence.

Libya's government said last Thursday that Ghanem had not defected and was instead on an official visit to Tunisia and some European countries to " continue his work."

However, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi said on Monday he believed Ghanem was no longer working for Gaddafi's government and was staying in a hotel on the small southern island of Djerba off Tunisia. Big investors in Libya include Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L), France's Total (TOTF.PA), BP Plc (BP.L), Norway's Statoil (STL.OL) and Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI).

Sources at those companies said their representatives had not recently met Ghanem.

(Editing by Richard Mably and Anthony Barker)

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Comments (4)
Verpoly wrote:
It’s doubtful if Gaddafi still maintains any chips on the table to bargain with oil giants which are ready to switch dealing with the transitional government in Bengazi. Now Tripoli is surrounded by rebels and oil ports are mostly secured, controlled by them. Gaddafi cannot even supply enough fuel to his troops, let alone foreign shipments. His move is simply unrealistic.

May 24, 2011 12:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JoeAtLowell wrote:
Netanyahu again voiced his opposition to a planned bid by the Palestinians to seek U.N. recognition of statehood in September in the absence of peace talks.
“Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated,” he said.

May 24, 2011 1:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
mikemm wrote:
Gaddafi might be closer to stepping down (which could mean leaving, or more likely holding free elections, or both, but with some amnesty in the deal). That’s the only bargaining chip he really has. Oil companies are only interested in who will be the one in power. A peaceful transition with a significant payment to him of “admistrative costs” could guarantee who would control the oil rights and to negotiate with, which is very valuable to the oil companies.
Oil companies can’t negotiate terms directly, but they have more than enough pull with major nations to still pull it off.
It’s a sad verification that corporations really do run the world politicaly trumping both democracies and other forms of government. George Orwell definitely called that one right.

May 25, 2011 9:24am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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