Tripoli, 29 April:
Shokri Ghanem, a former Qaddafi-era prime minister and latterly oil minister, was found today floating in the Danube in . . .[restrict]Vienna. A post-mortem will be held but the initial conclusion of the Austrian police is that there were no signs of violence. However a police spokesman said that had Ghanem been pushed into the river, such signs might not exist.
Ghanem, who was 69, defected from the regime in May 2011, when he fled to Tunisia. In June he appeared in Rome, with another defector, former Libyan ambassador to Italy Abdulhafed Gaddur. Ghanem said at a press conference both men gave, that he had quit because he could no longer tolerate “the daily shedding of blood” and the spiral of violence in Libya, which he declared was “unbearable”. He declined however to say whether he would be working with the NTC.
There was speculation at the time, which proved unfounded, that Ghanem might seek to represent the NTC at the July OPEC summit in Vienna, where the organisation is headquartered. Ghanem had once been in charge of the OPEC secretariat.
He had been oil minister from 2006. From 2003 he had been General Secretary of the General People’s Committee of Libya (prime minister) until he was replaced by his deputy, Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi. From Qaddafi’s point of view, his then prime minister’s main achievement was the handling of the rapprochement with the international community, which included $2.6 billion in compensation payments to Lockerbie victims. It also involved Qaddafi’s abandonment of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) including his nuclear weapons programme.
However Ghanem’s diplomatic touch was not all that sure. In 2004 in a BBC interview, he denied Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing and also in the 1984 murder of British police constable Yvonne Fletcher, shot outside the then Libyan People’s Bureau (embassy) in London.
As oil minister, Ghanem also became chairman of NOC, where he had once been marketing director. However, he resigned the position in 2009 after differences with the rest of the government over oil policy. Whatever the nature of those differences, Ghanem felt able to continue as oil minister.
One diplomat who had known him well said last night that Ghanem had never been an inner functionary of the regime: “He was more an assiduous goffer. His defection probably came as a surprise to Qaddafi and his people.” [/restrict]