Top Vienna murder unit gets Libyan oil boss case

VIENNA Thu May 3, 2012 11:17am EDT

Related Topics

VIENNA May 3 (Reuters) - Vienna's top homicide investigation team is probing the mysterious drowning of Libya's former oil chief but that does not mean they think he was murdered, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The body of Shokri Ghanem, a confidant of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi who fled to Austria after defecting last year, was found floating in the river Danube on Sunday.

Police have said they have no reason to suspect foul play but the circumstances surrounding his death remain under investigation.

The case is being run as a murder investigation, Vienna prosecutors spokesman Thomas Vecsey said, but only because the legal code lacks other designations police could use.

"We still have no suspicion at all of foul play. We still have no suspicion of murder," he added.

The so-called Hoffmann group at Vienna's office of criminal investigations - named after its leader - is in charge of the case, Vecsey said.

Ghanem, who was wanted in Libya for questioning in a graft inquiry, was a former Libyan prime minister who also ran the Libyan oil industry before defecting a year ago during the uprising that toppled Gaddafi.

That made him privy to potentially damaging information on oil deals with Western governments and oil firms.

He would have had enemies among Gaddafi's opponents because of his years at the centre of power, as well as among the late leader's friends and kin because of his decision to defect.

A passerby discovered Ghanem's fully clothed body in the Danube, a few hundred metres (yards) from his home in a 22-storey apartment block.

Friends and colleagues have said they suspect enemies may have killed Ghanem, 69, who knew more than anyone about Gaddafi's suspected multi-billion-dollar fortune. Associates have also said he was worried about health problems. (Editing by Myra MacDonald)

FILED UNDER: