Hunting down Gaddafi cash a challenge in Austria

Reuters, Sunday 27 Mar 2011

Media reports suggest Libyan dictator Gaddafi has US$30bn stashed in Austria

Tracking down and freezing assets linked to the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is proving a painstaking task and uncovering it all may take years, the head of Austria's central bank said on Sunday.

The small Alpine country ordered a freeze on any money linked to Gaddafi earlier this month, putting 27 people on a watch-list including a top Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) official. The European Union followed suit.

Ewald Nowotny reiterated that Libyan clients had some 1.2 billion euros (US$1.7 billion) deposited in Austria, although it was not clear how much of this was tied to the Libyan leader and his circle.

"We have certainly blocked money in Austria," Nowotny told broadcaster ORF.

"Though you need to take into account that when a dictator wants to hide money then he certainly doesn't do it under his name or under the names of his family members or friends. It passes through many hands, intermediaries and funds," he said.

Austrian media reports have said the Gaddafis and their close allies may have stashed $30 billion in the country, a figure Nowotny said he could not confirm.

He described the hunt for the money as "painstaking police work" that could take years before the final sum is revealed.
"We need to be realistic. These are highly professional people that have tried to burrow the money away and we need highly professional people to work out what belongs to whom."

The Austrian probe has centred on Mustafa Zarti, the former vice-chief of the country's sovereign wealth fund. Vienna authorities have said Zarti, an Austrian citizen, was a close confidant of the Libyan regime.

Zarti has dismissed this although he admits to knowing Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, who studied in Vienna.

Saif, a friend of the late far-right Austrian politician Joerg Haider, lived in a luxury villa on the outskirts of Vienna while in the country and housed his pet tigers in the city zoo.

Austria dismissed reports on Friday that the Gaddafis were seeking refuge in the country.

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