March 3, 2011 / 10:17 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 3-Austria may freeze Libyan finance manager's assets

* Investment Authority chief has Austrian passport

* Friend of Gaddafi’s son, questioned by authorities

* New freeze order to be published on Friday

(Adds questioning by authorities)

By Sylvia Westall and Michael Shields

VIENNA, March 3 (Reuters) - Austria is trying to add a top official at the Libyan Investment Authority to its asset freeze list because of possible links to Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

The ministry said it had asked the National Bank to consider listing Mustafa Zarti, the investment body’s deputy chief, because of the imposition of international sanctions on the Libyan leader’s family and associates.

“There are indications that he is part of the team around Gaddafi and that he might use possible assets in favour of people who are on the list for the asset freeze,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said.

Zarti, who has an Austrian passport, was also called in for questioning by Viennese authorities on Thursday and later released, broadcaster ORF reported on its website citing Interior Minister Maria Fekter.

One senior source said Austria was in the process of adding more names to its asset watch list.

The central bank is, at the foreign ministry’s request, working on a new directive that will be published on Friday, a bank spokeswoman said, but gave no further details.

Zarti was not on a list published by the central bank of Libyan leaders whose assets have been frozen, after the European Union adopted sanctions earlier this week.

Austrian media said Vienna was pushing the European Union to add Zarti’s name to its list.

LUXURY VILLA AND PET TIGERS

It was not clear whether Zarti or any of the others affected had assets in the country, Schallenberg said, but Austria was taking precautions in case any of them tried to withdraw money.

Two of Austria’s biggest commercial banks -- Erste Group Bank (ERST.VI) and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) (RBIV.VI) -- said they had checked their records and found no money linked to people on the black list.

“Furthermore, all accounts with Libyan origin have been blocked by RBI Compliance for monitoring purposes. Any suspicious transaction can therefore be reported to the relevant authorities prior to execution,” Raiffeisen added.

Bank Austria, a unit of Italy’s UniCredit (CRDI.MI), said it was complying with the directive and would freeze any relevant money it found.

The central bank chief said this week Libyan clients had about 1.2 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in Austrian banks and that authorities were trying to find out how much of this might be connected to people under sanctions.

Zarti, an Austrian citizen since 2006, was close to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, who studied in Vienna, also home to OPEC’s headquarters.

Saif, a friend of the late far-right politician Joerg Haider, lived in a luxury villa on the edge of Vienna while in the country and kept his two pet white tigers in the city’s zoo. (Editing by Tim Pearce)

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