Libyens Ex-Diktator Muammar al-Gaddafi

Libya's ex-dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi Foto: Pierre Virot/action press

Between Libya and South Africa:Hunting Gaddafi's Gold

Where is the dictator's treasure? Two Germans are searching for it. They have connections to right-wing extremists.

10.12.2021, 19:01  Uhr

The treasure we are talking about was stolen from the Libyan people. Muammar al-Gaddafi, longtime dictator, amassed a huge fortune fed by the continuous sale of oil. Before his death, he had money shipped abroad on planes – billions of dollars.

Gaddafi died in 2011. A good chunk of his wealth is still stored in bank accounts outside Libya, some of it frozen due to international sanctions, some of it not. Another part is housed in vaults all over the world. Gold bars, diamonds, dollar bills. An enormous treasure.

This text was originally published by German taz newspaper on December 10th, 2021. For an international audience, we now publish it in English. The original text can be found here.

Der Original-Text auf Deutsch findet sich hier.

Where there is treasure, there are treasure hunters. We get a tip-off: Two men from Germany are said to be secretly working on tracking down Libyan assets abroad and taking them out of the countries where they are currently stored. The men have dubious connections: Swedish neo-Nazis who fought as mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, far-right preppers in Germany, hardcore libertarians who reject the nation state. And they have good connections to Libya, a country now scarred by civil war.

One of the men is a former policeman from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, who worked, among other things, for a SWAT team. Allegedly he has established a relationship with the Gaddafi family. The other is an IT entrepreneur and consultant from around Munich, a busy networker who does not fear getting in contact with the far-right.

We want to find out how these men are hunting for Gaddafi’s treasures and on whose behalf. Their search raises a question: Who will receive this money in the end? The Libyan government? Gaddafi’s Children? Someone else entirely? A treasure like this falling into the wrong hands could cause a lot of damage – far beyond Northern Africa.

Wandbild von Gaddafi mit Geldsack

Mural in Tripoli, 2012 Foto: Matthias Tödt

In one week, the Gaddafi clan could return to power in Libya. The presidential election is scheduled for the 24th of December, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam is running. If elected, he could in the future have access to the frozen billions abroad. But so far, he apparently chose another way to track down the hidden gold: treasure hunters.

Our search leads us to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, to Sweden, to Greece, to Ukraine and to South Africa. We spoke to investigators and diplomats, to people from the security industry and scientists. This story is a glimpse into a shadow world worth billions.

The Treasure

In the beginning of 2011, the Arab Spring reached Libya, an uprising and a civil war followed. Many members of the Gaddafi family fled the country, taking with them as many valuables as they could pack into their cars. Finally, in October 2011, more than four decades of Gaddafi rule ended with men from the revolutionary forces dragging the former dictator out of his hiding place in a concrete pipe. He was shot dead.

The United Nations passed a resolution back in early 2011 stating that foreign assets from Libya should be frozen worldwide. At the time, there were talks of more than $60 billion – only a portion of the overall assets. The transitional government that ruled over the country after overthrowing Gaddafi, needed cash to rebuild the state. Some of the money can be identified because it used to be an official state investment – it remains however difficult to recover. Another part of Libya’s wealth must first be tracked down, as assets are often disguised by complicated corporate constructs and ostensible front men.

At this point, a process called asset recovery begins, to repatriate wealth stolen by autocrats. Asset recovery is a very technical term. The idea behind it: The recovered wealth of a country should benefit its citizens.

The obligation to repatriate stolen state assets is enshrined in the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The World Bank conservatively estimates that between 20 and 40 billion dollars are stolen each year through corruption in countries of the global South and hidden abroad. But only a fraction is eventually returned to its country of origin. Switzerland, for example, has boasted about returning, since 1986, some 2 billion dollars to the countries they were taken from. Only 2 billion, that is.

The Law Repatriating assets of former dictatorships abroad (asset recovery) is a lengthy process. In the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), signatory states commit to identifying, recovering and returning wealth derived from criminal acts – such as embezzlement of public funds.

Ways and Means In many cases, the process begins with UN sanctions. These apply to all member states and specify which assets must be frozen. In the EU, their implementation is governed by regulations. In the case of Libya, the sanctions affect many members of Gaddafi's family and of the former regime, as well as Libya’s sovereign wealth fund. The goal: to prevent the use of money and other assets to further oppress the Libyan people. The process was laid out in 2011 by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 1970.

The Problem It is unclear how much of Gaddafi’s wealth has been frozen, as states are not required to inform either the UN or the Libyan government. In the case of Germany, the Federal Ministry of Economics merely reports frozen financial accounts to the EU Commission. Things get complicated when unfrozen funds are to be reverted to their state of origin. This is not specified by the law behind the sanctions, but by a complex separate bilateral mutual legal assistance procedure. To date, there is no known case in which Germany has returned dictator funds to a country in the global South.

While asset recovery sounds great in theory, it rarely becomes concrete. The United Nations Security Council has its own body that deals with Libyan assets abroad: the Panel of Experts. Their job, among others: to track down funds so they can be frozen. The repatriation itself is not a part of it. Interpol, the international police organization, also has an asset recovery unit, that does not hold investigative authority. The country concerned must do the investigation by itself, just like Libya. And that makes things complicated. „It's a complete mess,“ says a UN representative.

After Gaddafi’s death, Libya's interim government took it upon itself to recover Gaddafi’s stolen assets. An asset recovery authority was set up. But soon, oversight on which minister ordered whom to search abroad for the assets was lost. On the hunt are: law firms, large enterprises, two-man companies, private detectives, and even journalists. They are promised a commission for their success – usually 10 percent, which is why they have been named “the tenpercenters“.

Libyens Repräsen­tantenhaus beschließt 2014 die Bildung eines Ausschusses, um das Vermögen zu finden

Libya's House of Representatives decided in 2014 to form a committee to find the assets Foto: Archive

Some searches became public. But no major successes have been reported.

Criminal groups also posed as official Libyan representatives. Others claimed to have identified funds, which then turned out to be a ploy to extract money from other peoples’ pockets. Knowing for sure who was actually in charge soon became impossible in the rising civil war.

It is unclear who exactly is allowed to claim these assets lying abroad. Authorities in other countries are therefore reluctant to cooperate with Libya, where at times there were several competing governments. It is understandable that in this situation, states such as Germany do not allow repatriation to Libya – if sanctions don’t outlaw this in the given case. They do, however, not actively search for further hidden assets or initiate proceedings themselves.

The Hiding Place

In South Africa, in the spring of 2019, suddenly, there were rumors of money, gold and diamonds. Gaddafi’s treasure.

30 million dollars in cash, the Johannesburg based Sunday Times reported, had first been stored in the residence of ex-President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, a favor to his old friend Gaddafi, who gave it to Zuma before his death in 2011. But the former president, who is now facing a prison sentence for corruption and money laundering, had probably grown afraid that the South African secret service could become aware of the Libyan millions in his basement. He quickly had it shipped out of the country to Eswatini, in five separate tranches. Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a small kingdom between South Africa and Mozambique, the last absolute monarchy on the continent. The money was deposited in its central bank, was supposed to be laundered, and then brought back to South Africa – and at some point, to Libya.

Jacob Zuma und Gaddafi beim Staatsbesuch

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma helped his friend Gaddafi move assets to South Africa Foto: Foto: N. Mokoena/picture alliance

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma's successor since 2018, took care of the matter personally. Accompanied by two ministers, he took a flight to Eswatini in March 2019 and spoke with King Mswati III. The king initially stated he knew nothing about the money. He then confirmed its presence. Officially, nothing further happened after.

The fact that a large share of Gaddafi’s assets have landed in southern Africa is no coincidence. The dictator had been close with Mandela, and also invested in South Africa. When revolutionaries gained the upper hand in Libya, Zuma made an offer to his friend: Exile in South Africa. He chose not to accept.

The U.N. Panel of Experts noted that, according to authorities in South Africa, Libyan assets have been identified in four banks and two warehouses; valuables had also been deposited at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo Airport – cash, precious metals, and precious stones worth tens of billions of dollars.

Route von Gaddafis Goldschatz

A letter from the South African Attorney General's Office, obtained by taz, describes how the transport allegedly took place. According to the letter, the operation began in January 2009. Large amounts of cash and gold were brought to Zimbabwe in cargo planes, Boeing 747s.

Gaddafi, on the 18th of January 2009, traveled there in person to coordinate the operation. He there met his confidant Zuma, the later president. From Harare, the transport continued with cargo planes, painted white, without a clear identification tag. 69 flights in total.

Die Standard Bank bestätigt, dass sie 200 Milliarden Dollar aus Libyen lagert, Gold und Diamanten

Standard Bank confirms it is storing $200 billion from Libya, plus gold and diamonds Foto: Archive

Taz also obtained a document from the South African Standard Bank, dated May 2013, which states that Libyan assets amounting to 206 billion U.S. dollars are being held, including the value of the stored gold, but excluding diamonds and other precious stones. Allegedly, hundreds of tons of gold and at least six million carats of diamonds were involved. The document also contains an estimate of how much these assets are worth: at least $1.38 trillion. 1,380,000,000,000. An incredible amount.

The Standard Bank Of South Africa

„We confirm hereby that we hold (…) on behalf of Libya the sum of $206 billion“

If this is true. Because time and time again, forged documents turn up. Or real documents stating things that are to be doubted. In this text, many things we found out during our research have not been included. Because they cannot be proven.

A myth has long grown around this treasure. This is also helped by the fact that what subsequently happened in South Africa sounds like a spy thriller, composed by a screenwriter who lost control over his storyline.

For example, a brief glimpse: Starting in 2012, dozens of treasure hunters arrived in Johannesburg. Two companies got into an actual race. Both claimed to be the only ones with an official mandate to secure Libyan assets. People close to President Zuma played a role in these deals, including the head of security for South Africa's ruling party ANC. An intermediary who claimed to have personally unloaded packages of banknotes from an airplane was shot dead in Belgrade. The head of one search firm was kidnapped, his competitor fell under suspicion. He claimed it had been a regular arrest. In 2015, the UN Panel of Experts determined that these companies were in part operating with forged documents, and that the Libyan authority who had allegedly commissioned their search did not even exist. Their investigation did not go any further.

The Hunter

In January 2013, German police officer Thomas B. traveled to Tripoli, Libya. It was not his first visit. His destination: a trade fair called „Military, Defence & Security“. Thomas B. first worked for the SEK in Baden-Württemberg, as the squad leader of a precision rifle unit. He then became head of a riot police unit in Böblingen.

Thomas B. in Polizeiuniform

Ex-SWAT policeman Thomas B. appearing in a reality TV series Foto: Screenshot taz

Thomas B. is a medium-tall guy with short brown hair, a fleshy nose and a square chin. He tries very hard to not have any photos of him on the internet. However, he can be found in an older reality TV series about police operations. In one episode he jumps out of a helicopter wearing a camouflage suit and a sniper rifle. On his Linkedin profile, he states his motto: „Going where others won't“.

Between 2005 and 2007, Thomas B. and other German elite police officers and soldiers traveled to Tripoli several times, to train Gaddafi’s security forces on behalf of a northern German company. They however had no permission from their superiors, which makes their travels illegal by German law.

In total, at least 30 active or former German officers, including some from special units, SEK and GSG9, made their way to Tripoli. Some stayed for weeks, some for months. Officially, they were on sick leave or on vacation. In reality, they trained Gaddafi’s forces in shooting and urban warfare.

In 2008, their travels became public. The media called this scandal “the Libya affair“.

Thomas B. apparently was in contact with the Gaddafi family. On whose behalf is he on the road?

A disciplinary ruling stated that Thomas B. had „irreversibly lost the trust of his employer and the general public as a result of the serious misconduct he committed.“ The Libya affair was never really resolved. It was never established whether Thomas B. or other German trainers had shared secret knowledge that they possessed as members of the special forces.

For Thomas B., the affair did not mean the end of his involvement with Libya. On the contrary. With some others, he founded a consortium, a merger of companies, to engage in business with Libya. Their proposition: „complete solutions for our customers' needs in security, aviation, rescue and equipment“, the website states to this day.

When Thomas B., in early 2013, after Gaddafi’s death, traveled to Tripoli for the Military and Security fair, he was officially still a police officer. His trip is confirmed by several of his business partners from that period. At the time, many businessmen in the security industry saw Libya as a new market that needed to be occupied quickly. „It was a gold-rush atmosphere back then,“ says one of B.'s business partners. Another man who was present states that Thomas B. had been very busy those days, rushing from appointment to appointment. He also says that, at the fair, someone showed him a photograph. Depicted: a truck parked in a warehouse. A truck full of dollar bills.

It is uncertain whether Thomas B. got the idea of tracking down Gaddafi’s money and gold at the trade fair in Tripoli. But at some point during this time his new business idea comes to him: hunting for Gaddafi’s treasure.

Mandat des libyschen Repräsentantenhauses

Libya's House of Representatives issued such mandates to treasure hunters Foto: Archive

Thomas B. later became co-managing director of Sotcon, a small security company based in Stuttgart, Southern Germany. He is also the director of a foundation, at least that's what is stated on an archived version of the “United Recovery Foundation for Libya“’s website. It shows a city view of Tripoli in the background, Thomas B.'s cell phone number is listed. The purpose of the foundation is stated: “to receive hidden, stolen and frozen assets and return the assets to the people of Libya (…)“. To do this, according to the website, they have a mandate from the Libyan House of Representatives.

But: Of all the experts and insiders we have spoken to, no one has heard ever of this foundation.

A call to the US, to the man named as CEO. His business: To help others quickly set up an NGO or foundation. A foundation can make even the shadiest character seem pristine.

A Camouflage Organization?

About the United Recovery Foundation for Libya, he states that they have a very prestigious board of directors. He can’t name any of them for security reasons, he says. And that they enjoy high-level support from both sides in Libya. Among them: members of the Gaddafi family. Everything else: strictly confidential.

But then he says: The initiative for the establishment of the foundation came from the German company Sotcon, Thomas B.'s company. It was also Sotcon, who had the mandate for the repatriation, and corresponding contracts with „several sides“. And he says that Sotcon had identified Libyan assets abroad.

Independence Libya became independent in 1951. In 1969, the military – under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi – took power, and the queen and king went into exile. In 1977, Libya was declared a Socialist Arab People's Republic. Since then, Gaddafi has been the de facto sole ruler.

Revolution In 2011, protests broke out in Libya after they had been successful in Tunisia and Egypt. After brutal military operations, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya and authorized the NATO to bomb Gaddafi's military. With this support, Libyan insurgents overthrew the Gaddafi regime.

Civil War There was no stable government after the takeover, despite elections in 2014. In 2016, the U.N. peace process led to the formation of a unity government in Tripoli, the capital. But the elected parliament retreated to the east of the country and, along with head of the army General Chalifa Haftar, did not recognize the government. Since 2019, Haftar's forces have attempted to conquer all of Libya. With Turkey's help, the government pushed Haftar back in 2020, and the UN brokered a cease-fire.

Peace? A new transitional government under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba has been in power in Tripoli since March 2021. But the parties at war are still intact.

Elections The first round of presidential elections is scheduled for Dec. 24. One of Gadhafi's sons is also running: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. However, it is questionable whether the elections will take place at all – this week, the government called for them to be postponed.

It is quite possible that Sotcon has a letter from the Libyan House of Representatives. Which is not too meaningful, because in the tangle of responsibilities, no one knows exactly who has been putting stamps on papers in the name of the parliament in eastern Libya, which hasn't been elected since 2014. That, of all possible options, this dubious foundation, has managed to acquire the support of all the opposing sides in Libya's civil war is considered highly unlikely by experts. The House of Representatives has not responded to several taz inquiries. According to the UN, such mandates are not in their field of competence anyways.

Is the United Recovery Foundation for Libya just a front organization to give Thomas B.'s treasure hunt a legitimate appearance? Who is Thomas B. actually working for?

The Partner

In the summer of 2019, another German turns up looking for Gaddafi’s treasure. And he states that he is working together with Thomas B.

His name is Sandro L., a Bavarian in his late thirties. He has previously worked as a real estate agent and as a band manager, then founded various small companies, some in the IT sector. Thomas B. and Sandro L. then went on a joint search for Gaddafi’s gold. An ex-police officer and a businessman.

Sandro L. im Smoking mit Fliege

Sandro L. at a meeting of radical libertarians Foto: Archive

Sandro L. is well-connected. He asked Josef H., a former member of the German Bundestag for the conservative CSU party, to help him establish some contacts. The ex-deputy was a door opener, he facilitated appointments, for example with companies from the security industry. The plans Sandro L. laid out at these meetings are adventurous. We find sources that describe to us what Sandro L. said.

L. talked about tracking down money in southern Africa and getting it out of the country, first by land, then by air. They have the official order from Libya, he supposedly said, and now they’re in need of equipment and armed personnel. Sandro L. is also said to have mentioned the Uniter association in this context. Uniter was founded by a former soldier of the KSK, the German army special forces military command, and prepper “Hannibal“. Today it is monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a suspected right-wing extremist case. An investigation by taz had revealed that Uniter wanted to set up an armed unit, a kind of mercenary force.

Ex-CSU deputy Josef H., who is said to have helped L., says he knows Sandro L. from private parties. And he claims that he has never engaged in any business dealings with him.

It is not easy to find out what exactly Sandro L. is doing today and where he lives. He is listed on the website of a law firm in Kiev, responsible for „Business Development'‘. The law firm is located in an expensive area of the city center. Sandro L. hasn't been to the office for a long time, says the secretary in the reception room. We get no answer to e-mails.

More revealing are the traces Sandro L. has left behind on the internet. In 2017, he registered a company in London for projects in the financial services sector. It also offers security solutions to profit in „emerging markets“ and analysis of geopolitical risks. According to information on the website, the company has cooperated with a training center for private security and military companies in Kiev.

In search of Sandro L., we drive to a small town in Upper Bavaria, not far from Munich. A family home in a quiet side street. No name on the door, mailbox, doorbell. There are two cars in the driveway. One is a silver Mercedes, a somewhat older model. There is a man in the passenger seat, wearing jeans and sneakers, cleaning the car. We approach him.

„Hello Mr. L.“

„Who are you looking for?“

„Sandro L.“

„You're in the wrong place.“

But the man looks exactly like Sandro L. in photos. It is him. This is how the conversation will go on for the two hours that we stand and talk in front of his house on this late afternoon in autumn. Sandro L. denies everything, then admits a little bit. And in the process, gets entangled in contradictions.

First Sandro L. claims that he had heard about the Libya project but had nothing to do with it. He says Thomas B. had told him about it and said that it was about „billions and billions“. He had also shown him an official document. The money was to be returned to the Libyan people, which was a good thing, says Sandro L. Then, after asking several times, he admits to asking around a little, at Thomas B.'s request, checking for contacts who would be able to help.

„How many people did you ask?“

„Not even ten, this is a sensitive topic, you have to be careful.“

Sandro L. during our conversation denies that he searched for help with equipment and personnel for the transport. First of all, he says, their plan had only gone so far as finding the treasure, and didn’t even get to bringing it out of the country. Uniter, he says, he has only read about. Sandro L. coquettes, he makes jokes, offers cigarettes. And at crucial points he always says: I don't really remember.

The Witness

His former business partner doesn’t suffer from memory loss, as does Sandro L. His name is Mikael S. and is as a known neo-Nazi. He hails from Sweden and has been active in various right-wing extremist organizations since his teenage years. Mikael S. served in the army for seven years, then, like other foreigners, was drawn to Ukraine. He joined the far-right Azov regiment and fought against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. Today, he's taking it a little easier. He’s now on the road as a security consultant, often in Africa.

Mikael S. is now in his mid-40s. We talk to him on Zoom. Behind him pass the streets of Kiev, lined with high-rises, as he explains that the joint company was about working in gray areas, private investigations, for example.

Mikael S. confirms: Sandro L. and Thomas B. had planned to track down and secure hidden money in Africa – for a success commission. Mikael S. was to become a middleman. He is the right person for this job: He has combat experience, knows people who can handle weapons. And he regularly traveled to different African countries.

There was a contract, Mikael S. says, Thomas B. had once shown him a document. And he says something else: Thomas B. is acting on behalf of the Gaddafi family, not for the benefit of the Libyan people.

Muammar al-Gaddafi was married twice and had eight biological children. A first arranged marriage lasted only briefly. He met his second wife, the nurse Safia Farkash, after his coup in 1969, when he was recovering in the hospital. He was married to her until his death.

Saif al-Islam, 49, was considered a possible successor to his father. He was friends with Austrian right-wing extremist Jörg Haider during his student days in Europe. As head of a charity foundation, he appeared as the „friendly face of Libya.“ In the 2011 war, he sided with his father and was wanted for torture and rape. He was sentenced to death but was freed in 2017 and is planning a political comeback.

Saadi, 48, became known for his soccer career in Italy. He commanded special forces during the insurgency, fled to Niger and was granted political asylum. He was then jailed; since his release in September, he is believed to be in Turkey.

Saif al-Arab came to Munich in 2006 to study. He was under investigation eleven times, including a charge for assault. He was killed in a NATO airstrike in Tripoli. Two of his brothers are also dead.

Gaddafi's only daughter, Aisha, 44, fled to Algeria with her mother and brothers Mohammed and Hannibal. She was later granted asylum in Oman.

If this is true, Thomas B. could also have committed a criminal offense under German law. A violation of financial sanctions is punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine. Other offenses such as money laundering might also apply. However, according to our research, there is no indication that the authorities of the Federal Republic of Germany are interested in the fact that some of their citizens are searching for Libyan assets abroad.

Thomas B. has built up good relations with the family, according to sources close to him. He’s particularly familiar with one of Gaddafi’s sons. He had even helped family members to get across the border and flee Libya after the fall of the regime, so he told others. It is quite possible that Thomas B. is also working on behalf of the Gaddafi clan now. According to Mikael S., this is what he heard too.

That the Gaddafi family is interested in the assets in South Africa, is known. „They want to use the assets in order to support pro-Gaddafi candidates in future elections“, says James Shaw, asset recovery consultant at the UN Institute for Interregional Crime and Justice Research in Brussels. Government circles in South Africa say that the second eldest son, Saif al-Islam, wants to access the assets believed to be there. If South Africa were to grant this, it would be a clear violation of UN sanctions.

Contact with Uniter

He doesn't know what happened to the treasure hunt, Mikael S says, as he didn't want anything to do with it.

Former policeman and treasure hunter Thomas B. does not answer his phone. He neither replies to several text messages nor e-mails. It therefore remains unclear how far he has come and who really hired him.

It is also open whether this is just a job for Thomas B. or whether there is an ideological component.

It is interesting to see where Sandro L. and Thomas B. stand politically. Sandro L. moves in circles of libertarian anarcho-capitalists. Apparently, this is where the two treasure hunters got to know each other. At least that's what Mikael S. says. Libertarians are people who consider taxation to be theft and the right to property to be the holy grail.

The idea of a private mercenary troop that moves through foreign countries and searches for treasures fits perfectly into the worldview of radical libertarians. Because in this world, the state is supposed to be passive and private actors are allowed to do as they please. Uniter, to which certainly Thomas B. and apparently also Sandro L. had contact, has tried exactly that. It had begun to build up a paramilitary unit.

The Curse

It was a mistake, says diplomat Martin Kobler, that he and his colleagues in Libya at the time did not look more closely at the assets that had been set aside. They should have paid much more attention to financial flows that did not go through official channels, he says.

Kobler is a career diplomat, having represented Germany around the world, in Cairo, New Delhi and Baghdad. From 2015 to 2017, he was the UN special envoy to Libya. He has invited us to his Berlin apartment, where he is moving books from one room to another. On the wall are maps and souvenirs from various countries, wooden masks, a curved dagger. He is now retired and can speak more freely.

Gaddafi bei einer Militärparade 1999.

Gaddafi at a military parade in 1999 Foto: reuters

In Libya, Martin Kobler says, the main goal had been to bring the state back together, to stabilize its political institutions. At the time, they had not been concerned with asset recovery. Money had never been a problem as long as oil kept flowing. „Libya is the most oil-rich country in Africa, so in theory it is very wealthy.“

Martin Kobler says, „We didn't look close enough there. I would do that differently today.“ He says it is a fundamental mistake not to look at a country's wealth, often the most important cause of conflict.

Since March of this year, Libya has a new transitional government, supported by the United Nations, a national unity government – no one knows how much power it really holds. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba has taken charge of the funds hidden abroad. The responsible authority in Tripoli now directly reports to him. They have again officially commissioned private investigation firms to search for the assets.

Elections in Libya

Elections are to be held in Libya on December 24, but they are likely to be postponed again. There's a vague hope for political stability, but also disruptive factors. Saif al-Islam is back, 49 years old, Gaddafi’s second oldest son. An arrest warrant against him has been issued by the International Criminal Court. And there have long been rumors that he has political ambitions. He has now laid claim to power and wants to become president of Libya. He needs money to do so. The election commission initially did not approve him as a candidate, but a court later ruled: He may run.

Saif al-Islam sitzt in einem Sessel

Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam when he was arrested in 2013. What happens if he gets the treasure? Foto: Ammar El-Darwish/AP

In southern Africa, Gaddafi’s treasure, or at least part of it, apparently still lies in Eswatini. The U.S. flagged these dollar notes more than a year ago. The US is capable of doing that because the treasure consists mainly of U.S. banknotes. Flagged means: Hands off. Three South African government officials entrusted with the matter confirmed this. Any attempt to bring the money into the regular financial system would get one in trouble with the U.S. authorities, they say. Those in charge in South Africa have agreed to let the matter rest for now. Until there is stability in Libya.

The research was funded by the Money Trail Project of Journalismfund.eu. The grant program aims to uncover illicit financial flows, tax abuse and corruption.

Even in Libya itself, senior government officials have expressed concern that this wealth will only wreak havoc once it returns to the country and is redistributed. Some of it could be siphoned off – or might have already – into dark channels en route. A 10 percent commission alone would be an enormous sum if it fell into the wrong hands.

The hunt for Gaddafi’s treasure is not over yet. But it might be for the better if it is never uncovered.

Qaanitah Hunter contributed reporting.

Translated from German by Lisa Schneider.

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