VIENNA — Austria widened an asset freeze list yesterday to include a top official at the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and said it would question him about possible links to Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle. The move against LIA deputy chief Mustafa Zarti, who has an Austrian passport, follows international sanctions on Gaddafi’s family and associates. Libya’s main sovereign wealth fund, the LIA, controls about $65 billion. It worked to enhance Libya’s credibility on the international stage by acquiring stakes in European blue-chip firms including Italian bank UniCredit and British publisher Pearson, owner of the Financial Times.
A central bank decree published in the official gazette described Zarti as a “close confidant of the regime in Libya.” It said Zarti was also a top executive of Libya’s National Oil Corp, head of the Tamoil oil and petrol station group, and deputy chairman of First Energy Bank. Zarti was not available to comment, but he told Austrian radio he had no clue how much money the Gaddafi clan might have amassed in the Alpine republic. A local newspaper report cited an estimate of $30 billion from an unidentified former Gaddafi aide.
“I have no idea about this 30 billion (dollars) of the news,” Zarti said. Zarti, 40, was questioned by Austrian authorities yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman said. “He will be questioned but there is no cause to detain him or to keep him under police surveillance,” he added. Citing Interior Minister Maria Fekter, Austrian media had reported that Viennese authorities queried Zarti last Thursday, but Gollia said this was based on a misunderstanding and that in fact it was Zarti’s brother who had answered questions. — Reuters