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Despite sanctions, Libya holds extensive reserves

Moammar Gaddafi has ruled Libya for more than 40 years. Now, he is strongly rejecting opposition demands that he give up power, as anti-government demonstrators continue to push for his ouster.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 8:35 PM

Even as its oil receipts slow to a trickle and international sanctions take hold, the Libyan regime of Moammar Gaddafi can fall back on as much as $110 billion in foreign reserve holdings to fund its operations for perhaps months to come.

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The reserves managed by the Central Bank of Libya would be enough to cover the country's imports for about three years, according to the International Monetary Fund, though it is not clear how much of the reserves are in the central bank's possession and beyond the reach of sanctions.

The Libyan government and the Gaddafi family have a global array of holdings - including a Hollywood production company, an Italian soccer team, valuable London real estate and billions of dollars in overseas bank deposits - that is now subject to an asset freeze imposed by the United States, the United Nations and Britain.

Even before the new round of sanctions, the revenue flowing to Gaddafi was in decline, according to traders and industry analysts.

Oil production has dropped by an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million barrels a day over the past two weeks, relieving international companies of the need to look for ways to avoid sending money to Gaddafi or his government.

ENI, the Italian oil giant that produces about a third of Libya's petroleum, said that its production has fallen to 120,000 barrels a day, less than a quarter of its usual level, and that the oil produced is not being sold but is going into storage facilities. Occidental Petroleum said that Libyan nationals were running operations and that it was not sure how much oil was being produced currently.

A leading European oil trader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his business relationships, said Libya's state-owned oil company had sent letters of force majeure, releasing customers from purchase contracts because of the conflict and disruption in supplies.

As sharp as the rise in oil prices has been, the effect on world markets has been tempered by seasonal fluctuations. World oil demand usually falls by about a million barrels a day in the weeks between the end of winter in the United States and Europe and the arrival of the summer driving season. European refineries have, so far, easily made up lost supplies from Libya by drawing on their reserves and seeking more from places such as Saudi Arabia.

And, at least in the foreseeable future, the effect on Gaddafi's regime may be limited as well, despite the freeze on Libyan assets imposed by the United States, the United Nations and Britain, and being debated by the European Union.

The freeze covers a diverse set of global holdings assembled by Libya and Gaddafi's family in the years since an earlier set of international sanctions was lifted.

Much of the country's overseas investments are owned by the Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund established in 2007 to invest the proceeds of the North African country's oil revenue. Between real estate, industrial holdings and foreign bank deposits, the IMF estimates that the investment authority holds about $40 billion.

Treasury officials announced Monday that U.S. financial institutions had frozen about $30 billion of Libyan or Gaddafi-controlled assets. The officials provided no details about the nature of the holdings. However, in a diplomatic cable written by U.S. Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and released on the WikiLeaks Web site, Libyan Investment Authority head Mohammed Layas told him that the fund had deposited up to $500 million each in several U.S. banks, while the bulk of its asset investments were in Europe.


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