30 Apr 2012

Libyan oil minister’s body found floating in Danube

The intrigue swirling around Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s former oil minister has followed him to Austria, where his body was found in the River Danube on Sunday. Police say he drowned.

The intrigue swirling around Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's former oil minister has followed him to Austria, where his body was found floating dead in the River Danube on Sunday.

Shokri Ghanem, 69, a fluent English speaker educated in the US, rose to prime minister and then chairman of Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation. He defected months after the Libyan uprising and fled to Rome, saying his defection was a result of the “unbearable violence” used by government forces to try to silence rebels.

Police still don’t know what happened to Mr Ghanem in the hours before he was found in the river at 8:40am but they are confident he drowned.

“We have no suspicions about murder” following the results of an autopsy, Roman Hahslinger, spokesman for the Vienna police, told Channel 4. “There were no signs of violence on Mr Ghanem’s body.”

“We will now check with all of his friends and family,” Mr Hahslinger said, adding that police will also interview colleagues at an international energy company in Vienna where Mr Ghanem worked.

Autopsy results expected

After Libya, Mr Ghanem settled in Vienna where he had an apartment and where one of his daughters lives.

“It seems impossible that I carry on working, especially after all the killing of the best and most loyal young people without stop,” he told reporters at the time. “God save Libya and may she stop bleeding.”

The bank of NOC

Mr Ghanem said he felt it was his mission to change Libya from the inside but his strategies were often blocked in a system in which the Gaddafi family’s interest trumped those of Libyans.

By 2006, he was summoned to the Bedouin tent where Gaddafi held meetings to tell Mr Ghanem he was being moved out of his post as prime minister to chair the oil company to oversee the return of foreign companies after decades of isolation.

Mr Ghanem had lost faith in the prospects of meaningful reform in Libyan by 2008, however, complaining Mr Gaddafi’s sons were using the NOC as their “personal bank”, according to a leaked US cable from 2008 citing a friend of Mr Ghanem’s.

The 69-year-old nonetheless continued to steer Libya’s oil policy and regularly travelled to Vienna for Opec meetings.

Files found after Mr Gaddafi’s death implicated Mr Ghanem in oil industry corruption but he dismissed them as stories planted for revenge.