Libya's interim leaders to honor bank contracts

TRIPOLI Thu Sep 8, 2011 7:39am EDT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's interim government sought to reassure foreign investors on Thursday, saying it would not change the country's stake in Italy's UniCredit SpA and will honor banking licenses granted by the ousted Gaddafi administration.

Asked about the roughly 7.5 percent UniCredit stake, Wafik Shater, a finance official in the National Transitional Council's stabilization team, told reporters in Tripoli: "All the stakes are as they are at the moment. This is an interim government -- we will not take any major decisions.

"(For) all foreign partners of Libyan banks who are operating in Libya, the agreements will be honored."

UniCredit was the first overseas bank to get a license in Libya, winning permission in August 2010.

A source close to the matter said UniCredit had been granted the license to open a bank with a local Libyan partner but that it had not started to operate in the country yet.

World powers imposed sanctions on Libya earlier this year as the conflict escalated. The country's new leaders have been trying to get the restrictions lifted so that the turmoil-hit country can get back to business.

Libya's central bank, under control of the country's new leaders, said on Thursday none of its assets had been stolen and it was having no liquidity issues, thanks to a delivery of bank notes from Britain.

It also said the bank had sold 29 tonnes of gold to help pay salaries of civil servants back in April and May. Libyan merchants snapped up the precious metal in a sale that occurred in Libyan dinars, officials said.

"No assets of the Libyan Central Bank have been stolen, gold or otherwise," the bank's new governor Gassem Azzoz told reporters in Tripoli, adding that if fallen leader Muammar Gaddafi had nabbed gold, it was not from central bank coffers.

Spot gold prices were at an average of around $1,500 an ounce earlier this year, meaning the gold sale would have been worth $1.4 billion on the international market.

However, the bank might have not got the full spot price, depending on the conditions of the sale.

According to a World Gold Council report issued in July, Libya was then the world's 24th largest official sector gold holder, with reserves of 143.8 tonnes.

(Additional reporting by Jan Harvey and Steve Slater in London and Steven Jewkes in Milan, Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by David Holmes)

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