Libyan Warlord’s Oil Foray Draws U.S., U.N. Scrutiny
05 Jun 2020

The U.S. and other powers are investigating suspected efforts by Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar to raise funds through oil deals, including with Emirati brokers and Venezuela, according to U.S., European and Libyan officials.

The United Nations and the official Libyan government are probing a Dubai-based ship charterer for possibly helping Mr. Haftar to market fuel in the Mediterranean, the officials said. The U.S. has also begun scrutinizing a trip Mr. Haftar may have made to Caracas in what some officials say was an effort to broker oil and fuel deals. Venezuela, which is subject to broad U.S. sanctions, is struggling to sell its crude oil and import the gasoline and other oil products it needs to fuel the country.

The probes are part of a wider international campaign aimed at halting Mr. Haftar’s oil sales, which he is hoping to turn into a key source of funding for his 14-month insurgent assault on Libya’s capital city of Tripoli. Mr. Haftar’s faction, the Libyan National Army, didn’t return a request for comment.

The renegade general controls much of eastern Libya including key oil export terminals, after launching a campaign to take over the country six years ago. He has suffered a series of military defeats in recent weeks after Turkey deepened its support for the Tripoli government, sending fighters and weapons including air-defense equipment.

The losses have prompted Mr. Haftar, a former U.S. ally now backed by Russia, to step up efforts to sell Libyan oil as a means of funding his operations.

Oil sales by Mr. Haftar would grease the path for Russia to establish a new Mediterranean outpost after establishing a durable presence in Syria, said Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister of the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli. The general “wants to sell oil. He needs the money to pay for Wagner [Russian mercenaries],” Mr. Bashagha said.

Mr. Haftar has a complicated relationship with the U.S. extending back decades. The Trump administration previously saw him as central to any future peace deal, but that view has soured in light of the militia leader’s newfound relationships with Moscow and Caracas.

The international community only recognizes the right of the state-run National Oil Corp., or NOC, to sell Libyan oil and has blocked Mr. Haftar’s attempts to sell crude. Failing to capitalize on the oil production of Libya—home to Africa’s largest crude reserves—Mr. Haftar in January blocked ports and pipelines.

The U.S. is now also probing whether Mr. Haftar also made overtures to the Maduro regime in Venezuela this year, possibly seeking to play a role in a fuel-for-oil deal between the South American country and Iran, according to a senior Western diplomat. The suspected outreach drew attention from U.S. officials who were concerned that Mr. Haftar’s efforts could enable sanctions evasion by two of Washington’s top foes.

“Our intelligence is looking into it,” a U.S. official said.

In November, the Military Investment Authority, a Haftar creation, signed 10-year fuel-distribution deals with Emo Investment Trading and Marketing of Oil and Derivatives LLC, a shipping charter firm in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, according to copies of the contracts viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Under the deal, Emo was to arrange for the loading of Libyan diesel and heavy oil onto vessels in east Libyan ports on behalf of the Military Investment Authority.

By Benoit Faucon and Ian Talley, The Wall Street Journal, 3 June 2020

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Photo (cropped and edited): Magharebia/CC-BY-2.0

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