Mohamed Siala receiving the Voltaire Network team of investigators.
© Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya / Réseau Voltaire

Voltaire Network: Your country is gas and oil rich. The Libyan Investment Authority manages an accumulated capital estimated at 70 billion dollars. What use are you making of this bonanza?

Mohamed Siala: We possess a significant amount of resources, but they are non renewable. We have therefore set up the Libyan Investment Authority to protect the wealth of future generations, following Norway’s example. A portion of these funds are dedicated to the development of Africa. This means that 6 billion dollars have been invested in African development shares, i.e. agriculture, tourism, commerce, mines, etc…

The remaining funds have been invested in various sectors, countries, currencies all over the world, including the USA and Germany. This, unfortunately, is what enabled them to freeze our assets.

Voltaire Network: Technically, how was the freeze carried out?

Mohamed Siala: The assets freeze is governed by the banking regulations of the country where they are invested. The rule is that they block our bank accounts, but we sometimes can get them unblocked if we take the litigation to the UN Claims Committee and provided we can prove they were destined for specific uses. For example, I have just pleaded for the unfreezing of funds earmarked to pay scholarships to 1200 students that we sent to Malysia. We are trying to do the same for everything that relates to social allowances or the hospitalization expenses of our citizens abroad.

We are sometimes allowed to use funds to buy food or medicine. This is, in principle, our right but many are refusing to unfreeze the necessary funds or are dragging their feet. For example, the Italian State rejects any use of our assets. In Germany, while the State authorizes their use for humanitarian purposes, it is sometimes the banks that refuse to unfreeze the necessary funds. The interpretations of the resolution are entirely different depending on each State. What we demand is a clear rule: what is permitted is authorised and what is not is forbidden. Right now, the interpretation is political and might prevails over right.

Voltaire Network : Is this the only problem your are facing in terms of supplies?

Mohamed Siala : We also have to face the maritime blockade put in place by NATO with no legal basis. Supplies are forbidden or delayed, that includes foodstuff. They are particularly intent on preventing our oil deliveries even if this is not envisaged by the relevant UN resolutions. We’ve had an oil tank stuck in Malta waiting for one month. For each ship, the double use of its cargo is questioned. Oil is destined for civilian vehicles, but NATO objects that it can also be used for army vehicles. We argue that they cannot prohibit its use for ambulances, etc. Anyhow, since the beginning of the conflict, they have prevented all oil deliveries. Now, we depend on foreign refineries for about one third of our supplies. Hence, our present shortage. Theoretically, they are only allowed to inspect the ships to make sure they do not transport arms. In reality, what NATO is enacting is an illegal maritime blockade.

Russian and Chinese ships have been ordered to make a U turn. Their respective States must file a claim before the UN Sanctions Committee to discuss the interpretation of the resolutions. It is an endless and dissuasive procedure. No legal basis allows NATO to behave like this. It abuses its authority, confident that it will go unpunished.

We, however, manage to supply ourselves by land, but this is laughable. It takes one month to truck what can be unloaded in our harbours in one day.

Voltaire Network: Your country has been heavily engaged in infrastructure building, namely the colossal Man-Made River irrigation and water works. Which projects do you currently have in the pipeline?

Mohammad Siala: There is a railway running across the whole of North Africa with the exception of Libya. We would like to complete it so as to achieve a greater integration in the regional economy and energise it. The Chinese are building the Tunisia-Syrte section. The Russians are in charge of the Syrte-Benghazi stretch. Negotiations with Italy were underway for the Benghazi-Egypt connection as well as for the locomotives. Also, we are constructing a North-South transcontinental railroad, starting with the Libya-Chad (N’Djamena) line. These are major investments with an international scope. We thought the G8 would help. It had promised to do so, but nothing came.

We are fierce when it comes to business, and we have used the bidding process to oblige providers to bring down their prices. When Putin came here, he agreed to align the rates of Russian enterprises on those of their Chinese competitors, thus enabling us to diversify the our choice of partners.

Voltaire Network: Now that the country is at war, what is going to happen to these projects ?

All these projects have been interrupted with the freezing of our assets. However, we are continuing with the bidding procedures for the construction of railway lines as we are confident the war is temporary and that works will start again. We are getting ready to proceed with the contracts temporarily interrupted for reasons of "force majeure."

The war has brought desperation to our partners. The Chinese had signed up for 20 billion worth of contracts here, the Turks 12 billion. Then, come the Italians, the Russians and the French. It was not in their interest to let this aggression take place, and even less to be part of it. Most likely, some of them must have been bribed in compensation, but we don’t know much about it. Some hope to make better profits by conquering our country and helping themselves to reconstruction contracts.

Voltaire Network: What are the consequences of your assets freeze for Africa?

Mohammad Siala: By freezing our assets, NATO also halted our development activities in Africa. The continent can only export raw products. We are investing in Africa so that these products can be processed in Africa and commercialized by Africans. We want to create jobs and keep the surplus in Africa. On one hand, Europeans applaud us as this policy dries out migration fluxes. On the other hand, they are against it since it means having to give up colonial exploitation.

The Westerners want to maintain Africa in a situation where it will only export raw products and commodities.

For example, when the coffee grown in Uganda is exported to Germany where it is marketed, the surplus remains in Germany. We have funded installations for coffee roasting, grinding and packaging. The remuneration for Ugandans went up from 20% to 80%. Needless to say, our policy is conflicting with that of the Europeans. That is an understatement.

We are funding rice fields in Mozambique and Liberia, up to 32 million dollars per project, creating each time 100,000 jobs. We focus on food self-sufficiency for each African state first and on exportation markets second. There is no doubt we are entering into conflict with those who produce and export rice, especially if speculation is at stake.

We are also building roads, for example from Libya across Niger. We have already linked Sudan to Eritrea thus changing drastically the regional economy and opening new development opportunities. It is now possible to ensure the transportation of goods by road and by sea.

Voltaire Network: Can we say that Libya is short on diplomatic alliances but that you have elaborated economic alliances that are protecting you? Can we talk of investment diplomacy?

Mohammad Siala: Yes.

For example, we are funding the construction by the Chinese companies of a 50 million-dollar, 32 Km, canal in Mali for the irrigation of agricultural areas. The freeze of our assets halts important agricultural projects in this country. If this goes on, a food problem will arise quickly and the populations will revert to and speed up migration towards Europe. Finally, Europeans cannot afford to stop our development efforts on the continent. There is no alternative to our policy.

Voltaire Network: Are you using a mechanism enabling you to pay for your orders on the international market in spite of the freeze of your assets?Your country is attacked; I am of course thinking of the purchase of arms and munitions.

Mohammad Siala: We have been resisting for four and a half months. We drew the lessons from the embargo and were ready right from the first day. A lot of States are observing us and are taking similar measures to also protect themselves against imperialism.