Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi employed some of the world's biggest banks to manage billions of dollars of the country's oil revenues, according to a document leaked by international advocacy group Global Witness.
Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, HSBC Holdings, Royal Bank of Scotland, Japan's Nomura and the French institution, Societe Generale, are among the banks which held $53 billion US and invested it at the Gadhafi family's direction.
'Banks have no obligation to disclose state assets they hold.' —Global Witness
The disclosure came Thursday as Canadian and other NATO warplanes continue to conduct raids on forces loyal to Gadhafi and the International Criminal Court is seeking his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity.
The document summarizes investments made by Libya's sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). It was created for the fund by management consulting firm KPMG in June 2010.
The investments were legal at the time but will add to questions about the West's enthusiastic embrace of the Libyan regime beginning in 2004, despite its reputation for brutality and corruption. The assets have since been frozen by the European Union and the United Nations.
"The Libyan people could not know where it was invested or how much it was, because banks have no obligation to disclose state assets they hold," Global Witness said on its website.
The advocacy group called for new laws requiring banks and investment funds to disclose all state funds that they manage.
HSBC held $292.69 million across 10 accounts and Goldman Sachs had $43 million in three accounts. The funds held assets in Canadian and U.S. dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and euros.
Fund had a Canadian connection
The LIA also had a Canadian connection. It took over Calgary-based Verenex Energy in 2009 for $317 million Cdn, or $7.09 a share, despite an earlier offer of $10 a share by CNPC, the Chinese state oil company. Libya insisted it had pre-emptive rights.
Verenex operated in Libya, the Bay of Biscay offshore France, and the Bottrel area of Alberta. The company was also exploring for new opportunities in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Nineteen billion dollars was held in Libyan and Middle Eastern banks, including the Central Bank of Libya, the Arab Banking Corporation and the British Arab Commercial Bank.
Almost $4 billion was held in assets designed to manage risk or for speculation, and kept in banks, hedge funds and private firms. These included Societe Generale, which managed $1 billion, JP Morgan with $171 million and OCH-ZIFF, with $329 million.
The LIA owns billions of dollars of shares in household name companies such as General Electric, BP, Vivendi and Deutsche Telekom.
Global Witness said it asked both HSBC and Goldman to confirm that they held funds for the LIA, and whether they still hold them. They both refused, with HSBC citing client confidentiality.
Global Witness director Charmian Gooch said the assets were held in state accounts, "so the customer is effectively the Libyan people and these banks are withholding vital information from them."
Global Witness said the Gadhafi family has significant personal control over the state funds invested in the LIA, and quoted the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court as saying that Gadhafi makes no distinction between his personal assets and the resources of the country.