Libyan fund: Five EU countries released Gaddafi’s frozen money

Despite sanctions, Libyan Investment Authority says UK, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Belgium all released cash.

Libya’s sovereign wealth fund says that five EU countries paid out money from frozen accounts in Europe that once belonged to Muammar Gaddafi, despite international sanctions.

Questions about mystery payments from the Libyan dictator’s supposedly frozen billions in Europe have already become a hot political issue in Belgium, because significant sums flowed out of accounts in Brussels.

But the Libyan Investment Authority’s announcement is the first time an official state body has said that countries other than Belgium may also have wrongly implemented the U.N.’s 2011 sanctions regime against Libya, and raises more questions about how much of Libya’s wealth has been transferred to unknown recipients since 2011.

Belgium defends payments of money from LIA’s frozen accounts by saying that interest accumulated on frozen funds is not covered by sanctions. A U.N.-backed panel of experts disagrees, however, and concluded in September that such payments were illegal and could be contributing to instability in the country.

The LIA said in an emailed statement to POLITICO that Belgium’s government was not alone in taking advantage of a loophole by paying out the interest earned on the frozen money.

“In many jurisdictions (the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg for example) the interest and dividends on holdings frozen under the U.N. sanctions are not frozen,” the LIA said through its London-based PR agency Maitland.

The statement also sought to deflect mounting questions about why Belgium decided to unfreeze funds from accounts managed by Euroclear, a financial institution headquartered in Brussels.

The LIA provided an email from the Belgian finance ministry to Euroclear dated October 4, 2012 in which Marc Monbaliu, a top civil servant, said that “the legal department of the European External Action Service of the European Union considers that there is no longer any legal basis to freeze interest on these funds.” Contacted by the Belgian broadcaster RTBF last week, Monbaliu said “at the time that the request arrived, I had no reason to refuse it.”

In February, POLITICO reported that Belgium was channeling tens of millions of euros of frozen Libyan cash in stock dividends, bond income and interest payments to unknown beneficiaries with bank accounts in Luxembourg and Bahrain.

Since then, senior officials in Belgium’s government including Foreign Minister Didier Reynders have been asked to explain why the payments were made and where they ended up. Neither Belgium nor the LIA have, however, been able to name the final recipients.

The Belgian finance ministry has justified the interest payments from the Belgian accounts by saying they were in accordance with a 2011 interpretation of the sanctions’ rules by RELEX, an expert group at the Council of the EU composed of diplomats from member countries.

Members of the U.N. panel of experts on Libya did not respond to questions about whether they were aware of the actions taken by the U.K., Germany, Italy and Luxembourg. José Luis Díaz, a U.N. spokesperson, said the experts’ findings from September had been sent to the U.N. Security Council, which can take action if appropriate.

The German representation to the EU declined to say whether Berlin had released funds to the LIA, though it noted that “the assets of LIA are frozen insofar as they were owned, held or controlled by this entity on 16 September 2011.”

A U.K. Treasury spokesperson also declined to say whether the government had released frozen funds generated by Gaddafi’s wealth.

“We are working with the U.N. panel of experts to better understand their recommendations and will reflect this in our ongoing discussion with the EU about how we implement Libyan sanctions,” the spokesperson said.

Officials from Luxembourg and Italy did not respond to questions. However, an EU official briefed on Luxembourg’s financial decisions who spoke on the condition of anonymity said no funds had been authorized by the treasury to leave the country.

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Benedict Rogers: Hunt has made a strong start in placing values at the heart of British foreign policy

From Hong Kong to Yemen to Burma the Foreign Secretary is making positive steps. There is still more to do, however.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, the co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and author of three books on Burma.

Jeremy Hunt is the first Foreign Secretary since William Hague to really articulate a values-based foreign policy, and a plan to implement it. Even when Brexit dominates, when the Government is fragile, and when others are more concerned with trade deals than human rights, he appears to be thinking bigger.

He wisely avoids Robin Cook’s “ethical” terminology, but speaks actively of Britain’s role in defending our beliefs. While Boris Johnson hinted at similar themes, with talk of ‘Global Britain’ and girls’ education, his tenure was so overshadowed by his ambitions, character and Brexit that he never developed the narrative. Philip Hammond’s two-year stint was associated only with bean-counting. Not since Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary promised to put human rights “at the very heart of foreign policy” have I heard an articulation of a vision for a British foreign policy that I could wholeheartedly cheer. Until Hunt.

And it is not simply his rhetoric. The Foreign Secretary has already taken some bold steps. On his first visit to Beijing he met the wives of imprisoned human rights lawyers in China. His foreword to the Foreign Office’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong was noticeably stronger than previous reports, and his statement in response to the expulsion from Hong Kong of Victor Mallet, the Financial Times’ Asia Editor, was robust.

In his Diwali message he spoke of the “victory of good over evil” and the need to defend freedom of religion or belief, and in the Evening Standard he pledged to make the defence of press freedom a priority. His statement in response to the appalling death of Jamal Khashoggi was good. His decision to visit Burma in September was welcome, and his call for accountability for appalling crimes against humanity and genocide there, while long overdue, was further than his predecessor had gone. “What is essential now,” he said, “is that the perpetrators of any atrocities are brought to justice, because without that there can be no solution to the huge refugee problem. We will use all the tools at our disposal to try and make sure there is accountability.”

So where does he go from here?

In his recent speech to Policy Exchange, the Foreign Secretary set out his vision. Post-Brexit, Britain must establish a new role for itself as a defender of democratic values and human rights, and a builder of multi-lateral coalitions to protect liberty in an era when it is under increasing threat. As the home of parliamentary democracy, and “an outward-looking, seafaring nation,” with a network of friendships that is “unparalleled”, Britain has the opportunity and the responsibility to lead. “Our democratic values are under greater threat than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said. “We can use our influence, our reach and power to defend our values by becoming an invisible chain that links the world’s democracies.”

How will he do this? Through the biggest expansion of our diplomatic service for a generation, the opening of more embassies, increasing the languages taught to our diplomats and reform of major multi-lateral institutions – the United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organisation and the Commonwealth. These are bold, necessary and welcome steps.

There is, however, much further to go if this vision is to develop into a lasting narrative. There will be many competing areas in which Britain could develop multi-lateral leadership, but two different but equally important focuses come to mind. Both are areas where Hunt has shown interest and could shape further.

The first is ensuring accountability for mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. In the case of Burma, will he lead an international effort to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice, either through the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal? Will he work to build international support, to invite other countries to follow if he leads?

Similarly, will Britain step up to hold China to account for its horrific repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, investigate allegations that prisoners of conscience are targeted for forced organ harvesting, and put pressure on China to stop the intensifying persecution of Christians and Tibetan Buddhists?

Will the Foreign Secretary play a leading role in ensuring that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are not swept under the carpet in the rapprochement with South Korea and the United States?

Will he hold IS/Daesh accountable for genocide?

Will he study the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s recent report on Russia – Poison, Torture, Lies and Repression: Human Rights in Russia Today – and act to end the impunity with which Vladimir Putin’s regime behaves by ensuring that targeted sanctions under the global Magnitsky legislation are implemented?

Hunt’s willingness to call on the Security Council to act to stop the war in Yemen was right, if overdue. Let’s hope such boldness can be applied to the world’s other mass atrocities.

The second area in which Britain should lead is in response to the erosion of basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong.

Over the past five years, democratic values in Hong Kong have taken an enormous hit. Booksellers have been abducted, peaceful protestors jailed and pro-democracy legislators and candidates disqualified. I was denied entry to the territory a year ago, and the Financial Times’ Asia News Editor, after being expelled, was then barred. The undermining of press freedom, academic freedom and freedom of expression is spiralling daily. “Asia’s world city,” as its slogan puts it, is increasingly closing its doors and becoming just another Chinese city.

Here Britain has a special responsibility, as a signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. We have a legal as well as moral duty, and it is in our own interests too. If Hong Kong’s openness, transparency, rule of law and autonomy continue to unravel, it puts at grave risk British business and trade.

But it is also a matter of international concern, and I was encouraged that in China’s recent Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, twelve countries, including the UK, raised Hong Kong. In the previous review Hong Kong was not mentioned. In Washington DC, Ottawa, Berlin, Geneva and Brussels this year, policy-makers have indicated to my colleagues and me growing concern and willingness to work with like-minded allies to address the deteriorating situation. It is in everyone’s interests, including China’s, that Hong Kong remain an open, free international business centre.

“When we act in concert, we are strong. When we act together, the price for transgression becomes too high for the perpetrator,” Hunt said. “We must be better at standing together to defend the values we share. Whether that is: the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, the struggle against the illegal wildlife trade, or threats to freedom of expression. Because access to fair and accurate information is also something we should remember is the lifeblood of democracy.”

He is absolutely right. So I hope he will lead the international community to build coalitions of like-minded nations to ensure accountability for mass atrocities, and a coalition to ensure that the promises made to the people of Hong Kong are honoured, not trampled on. The early signs are welcome. I encourage him to go on and build that “invisible chain” to defend and promote democratic values and human rights for everyone. Not only because it is right, not only because we have a responsibility, but also because it is in our national interests to do so.

Parisian getaway from home troubles for Trump, others

Macron flees his polls, Merkel her political obituary writers, and May as ever Brexit.

PARIS — Now playing in Paris: global soap opera starring world leaders seeking escape from political reality.

Eighty-five of the planet’s heads of state or government will gather on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But the ceremony at the base of the Arc de Triomphe, the burial place of the unknown soldier, also offers them a chance to set aside political headaches back home.

Donald and the rain

U.S. President Donald Trump gets a diversion from his not-so-great midterm election results, in which Democrats seized back control of the House (though his party grew its majority in the Senate), and from the controversy swirling around his ousting of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump displayed little interest in the formal ceremonies, canceling a planned visit to an American military ceremony outside of Paris on Saturday because of rainy weather that the White House said prevented him from getting there by helicopter. The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, attended despite the bad weather, along with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joe Dunford.

Trump, in a tweet, said he spent the afternoon making calls, and while he did not make any reference to the changing political landscape in Washington, he did fire off another tweet accusing Democrats of “trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

No joy in Paris or Berlin

As for the top Europeans, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the site in Compiègne, where the armistice ending World War 1 was signed in 1918, and unveiled a memorial plaque. The French president released a somber image of him standing hand-in-hand with Merkel.

While the commemorations hold tremendous symbolism for France and Germany, the weekend gives Macron his own bit of distraction from his collapsed poll ratings and struggles to notch up political achievements, at home or on the European stage. His approval numbers are — sorry, Monsieur Le President — far deeper in the toilet than Trump’s. And Merkel won a break from rampant speculation in Germany about her potential successors following her decision not to run again to lead her political party and not to seek re-election in 2021.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May won’t be at Sunday’s ceremony in Paris. Consumed by her efforts to manage Brexit, the U.K.’s psychodramatic departure from the EU, May conducted her own small Armistice commemorative trip on Friday. She visited the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium with Prime Minister Charles Michel in the morning, then went on to Paris for lunch with President Macron. She also laid a wreath  at the Thiepval Memorial in France, a monument to 72,000 fallen Commonwealth troops. Then it was back home — back to Brexit.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t have to trouble so much with the vicissitudes of political life in a democracy, might appreciate being out of Moscow. The latest scandal there involves an odd meeting featuring his friend, the billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. Prigozhin has been accused of financing Russian mercenaries in eastern Ukraine and Syria, as well as other allegations of criminal conduct.

Many of the leaders seemed to dread the prospect of seeing each other. An uncomfortable encounter on Saturday morning between Macron and Trump offered a prime example. “We’re getting along from the standpoint of fairness,” Trump said. “And I want it to be fair.” Sure, that’s exactly how great pals talk about each other.

An initial bromance , which had blossomed during a visit by Trump to Bastille Day festivities in 2017, has since fizzled. Macron, who wants to be seen to be able to work with everyone, is ticked off by Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, his initiation of a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium, and general anti-EU rhetoric.

Trump has expressed affinity for Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and for Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right politics. But neither Conte nor Salvini will be in Paris. Instead, Italy will be represented by President Sergio Mattarella, a mainstream politician from the Democratic Party, who has struggled to prevent his own country’s political soap opera from turning into a horror movie.

Another episode of this traveling drama will be aired later this month when the star players come together in Buenos Aires, at the G7 summit.

Syed Kamall: People in Brussels expect a Brexit deal will be struck, but fear time is running out

Meanwhile, my ECR colleagues and I continue to push for a sensible, nation-led approach to tackling the migration crisis.

Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.

Two things let you know when Brussels is hosting one of its frequent summits.

Overhead the security helicopters buzz continually across the city, often quite late into the evening depending on the world leader in attendance.

On the ground, the city’s traffic becomes even more gridlocked than normal as lanes are closed to ensure swift passage for the motorcades, the size of which is not always a reliable indicator of the occupant’s importance.

So anyone planning an early night, or hoping for a stress-free drive to work, was well advised to take some time off and head out of town as the European Union staged no fewer than seven summits in four days.

From Tuesday 16 October to Friday 19 October, the EU held: a Tripartite Social Summit; European Council summits discussing Brexit, the Eurozone plus a session on migration and security; the Asian-Europe Meeting; the EU-Republic of Korea Summit; and the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting. The latter, held over two days brought together the leaders of 54 European and Asian countries representing 55 per cent of global trade, 60 per cent of the world’s population and 65 per cent of global GDP.

While these summits were an impressive show of the EU’s internal and external diplomacy, many will ask what was achieved?

The flagship event was the set piece signing of free trade, investment, and partnership agreements with Singapore. When I was the rapporteur (lead MEP) guiding the EU-Singapore FTA through the European Parliament in 2013, I and MEPs across the political spectrum urged the Commission and Council to send it to us for ratification before the June 2014 European elections.  In the event, the EU insisted on re-opening the agreement to change the rules on investment protection, even though the agreement had been signed off.

The Singaporeans were naturally annoyed, but felt they had no choice, and are of course relieved that it will be sent to us before the 2019 elections.  However, this incident damaged the EU’s credibility in keeping its word on a signed off agreement. Maybe a warning to other future partners?

A trade accord was also signed with Vietnam. The great hope was to use the focus on these two agreements and the Asia-Europe Meeting to persuade China to ease restrictions on foreign investment, goods, and services. But talks failed to deliver a breakthrough, and a final communique omitted a call for an end to trade distortions after China insisted on changes.

Otherwise there was precious little to show for such intense diplomatic activity beyond warm words and general declarations. That was certainly true of two major challenges facing the EU: migration and Brexit. Despite both featuring on the EU Council agenda, no concrete action had been agreed when the red carpet was eventually rolled up on Friday evening.

On migration, at least the Council appears to be finally getting around to considering the policies put forward by Conservative MEPs and our colleagues in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group at the height of the crisis in 2015.

After the EU spent two years trying to force refugee quotas on often reluctant member states, EU leaders have now agreed that the way forward lies in improving the processing of arrivals to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants, speeding up returns, securing borders, and seeking enhanced arrangements with third countries to stem the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in the ECR group continue to push for member states to be asked how they are willing to help, rather than telling them how many people they should accept. Some countries will take in genuine asylum seekers, others will choose to help refugees closer to their homes and some will provide money to help front line countries.

If these common sense policies had been adopted sooner, and not dismissed as anti–European or populist, then the system would now be in better shape and perhaps more lives could have been saved.

The failure to make progress on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was disappointing, but came as no real surprise. Before the summit there was no real sense that we were approaching the negotiating end game, and this was confirmed when leaders of the EU27 spent just 90 minutes discussing Brexit over dinner and had little interest in listening to Jean-Claude Juncker’s briefing on preparations for no deal. Rather than negotiating into the early hours of the morning and seeking to emerge with a compromise, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and two other Prime Ministers took themselves off for a post-dinner beer on the Grand Place.

Of course intense negotiations continue behind the scenes, and my discussions with diplomats have revealed more understanding that Theresa May’s position on the Irish backstop is not simply a negotiating stance or a bluff. It is a Prime Minister defending the constitutional sovereignty and geographical borders of a nation, and protecting a hard won peace.

These talks were always going to go the distance, and the pressure of having to reach a deal before the end of the year in order to give the British and European parliaments time to consider the agreement will focus minds. In seeking a legal text that satisfies both sides, the negotiators may look to their lawyers to turn the seemingly impossible into the possible, just as they did with the Danish opt outs in 1992 and Protocol 36 with the UK in 2014.

Most people I speak to in Brussels expect a deal to be agreed by the end of the year, or at the very latest in January. There are concerns any agreement may not be approved at Westminster or in the European Parliament, but for now the biggest fear is that we are running out of time.

Bob Seely: Hunt must face up to the harsh strategic realities facing Britain

Authoritarian regimes are rising, democracies are on the retreat, and our power to change that is less than we might wish.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

This week Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has been giving some pointers for Global Britain – and a reality check for those who think that foreign policy should be about virtue signalling and moral posturing.

Hunt became Foreign Secretary three months ago when Boris Johnson resigned over Brexit. He may lack Johnson’s pazazz, but he is at least trying to understand the world and work out what ‘Global Britain’ means beyond the slogan.

Yesterday he outlined ideas for the future in a speech at Policy Exchange and in his first appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees the work of the Foreign Office. Hunt reminded us, in both his speech and his talk, that we need to understand some harsh global realities.

In 20 years time, China, a one-party nominally ‘socialist state’, may have the world’s largest economy. Democracies are regressing. Free and open states are in a global minority. The rules-based system is under threat. In short, the world is changing, not necessarily to our liking, and we don’t have as much power as we would like to change it.

Yet the UK needs to continue to defend an international order based on values. The alternative is a valueless and anarchic one based on hard power – plus the willingness to use force.

The Foreign Secretary rightly talked of expanding and reinvigorating British diplomacy. He is planning for 1,000 more staff: 335 new diplomatic posts overseas, 328 new roles in London, and 329 new locally engaged staff. In addition, he wants 12 new UK posts and a greater emphasis on language training.

He also talks of protecting media freedom. This is not a ‘nice to have’, but a critical element in defending freedom of speech and the core values of democracies. We have a Foreign Secretary who wants to support the BBC World Service and sees it as a critical tool in the UK’s arsenal of power. Whatever one thinks about the BBC at home, the World Service TV and Radio is critical to the future of global free speech because of its reach and what it represents – especially in the developing world.

More generally, he wants a more confident UK as a great power. This is all good. However, there are some ‘buts’.

Hunt is mid-way through his thinking. What we need to see from the FCO under his leadership is more strategic understanding about its role. Over and above the generic promotion of UK interests, what are our aims and campaigns? Can it really be right that Britain’s overseas policy is divided up between so many government departments – FCO, DfID, Defence, DExEU, DIT, Cabinet Office, not to mention Number 10?

There is a powerful argument for the UK to redefine the 0.7 percent it spends on aid rather than accept the sometimes confusing definition set by the OECD, which undermines the credibility of our aid budget and, on occasions, negates its affect. We need more ‘hard’ power in a more dangerous world.

Finally, there is the central question; what does Global Britain stand for? The blunt answer is that we don’t really know because the Government hasn’t done enough collective thinking on it – yet. We badly need to develop our national strategy post-Brexit.

This summer, the grand old man of US diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, told Hunt that the difference between a good foreign secretary and a bad foreign secretary was that a good foreign secretary thinks strategically.

It is early stages, but at the Select Committee Hunt was thoughtful, diligent, and decent. His problems are the limitations on the FCO, the lack of thinking about Global Britain, and the UK’s current obsession with Brexit. By next Spring we’ll need a better understanding of the Foreign Secretary’s strategic thinking about our future.