Libyan Government Seeks South Africa’s Assistance in Recovering $23 Million of Gaddafi Money

On April 6, The Telegraph reported that the Libyan government has asked the assistance of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in recovering millions of dollars that the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi smuggled out of Libya and handed personally to former South African President Jacob Zuma before Gaddafi’s death.

In 2011, at the time of the NATO  intervention in Libya, Zuma, who was then South Africa’s President, reportedly “had disagreed with international military intervention in Libya and had offered Gaddafi asylum in South Africa as his regime crumbled.”  Although Gaddafi declined Zuma’s offer, he allegedly handed Zuma approximately $23 million, saying that “he will die in his own country” and adding, “’Please use this if I’m captured and taken to the International Criminal Court, find a good lawyer for me’. He said, “If I’m killed, please give it to my family”, a source told South Africa’s Sunday Times.”

Zuma then reportedly held the $23 million “for several years in an underground vault at his luxurious home in rural Kwazulu Natal, according to government sources,” but in February 2019 gave it to King Mswati of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) “after fearing he would face charges over corruption allegations.”

The Sunday Times also reported “that the cash is now held by a relative of King Mswati’s who is employed by Eswatini’s central bank,” and that the King ”initially denied he had the Gaddafi money but reportedly admitted to knowing of its whereabouts when he met Mr Ramaphosa for the second time last week.”

Note: Even though the $23 million is only a fraction of the $20 billion in missing Libyan money that found its way to South Africa, this report is of interest in two respects.  First, it provides yet another example (as if one were needed) of Zuma’s pervasive condonation of corruption by others in high places. Although Zuma apparently deserves some modest credit for not pocketing Gaddafi’s funds upon Gaddafi’s death, and setting them aside for some future disposition, his hasty transfer of those funds to King Mswati suggests some degree of consciousness of guilt for retaining them for eight years rather than repatriating them to the Libyan government.

Second, it provides an additional perspective on the complexity of identifying and repatriating kleptocrats’ assets.  When heads of state facilitate the export and transfer of other heads of states’ stolen funds, it further complicates the process of tracing and recovering those funds.  If President Ramaphosa can obtain control over and repatriate the Gaddafi funds in Eswatini in the near future, it can set an example for other heads of state in demonstrating their countries’ active commitment to combating kleptocracy.

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