By Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
Tripoli, 24 September 2013:
Members of Congress called today for the head of its Energy Committee, Naji Mukhtar, to . . .[restrict]be removed after he admitted that he had given a number of signed cheques to the brother of Ibrahim Jadhran, who is blockading Libya’s eastern oil terminals and preventing oil exports.
No decision was taken but the Sebha Congressman was removed from dealing with the oil crisis and his file is being sent to the Attorney-General to investigate.
Yesterday, the President of Congress, Nuri Abu Sahmain, set up an internal Congressional investigation into allegations made on Sunday by Jadhran that Mukhtar and the government had tried to bribe him with LD 30 million to end the industrial action by Petroleum Facilities Guards.
Speaking earlier today on Libya Al Ahrar TV, Mukhtar denied Jadhran’s allegations of bribery but admitted that he had handed his brother Salem a number of cheques, one of which, for LD 2.5 million, was reportedly cashed. He had written the cheques because Salem Jadhran, whom he described as “a field commander with the oil ports protesters” had asked for them when he had gone to stay with him last Saturday. They “cannot be considered bribery” Mukhtar insisted, because there were insufficient funds to honour them. They were simply “a guarantee”, he claimed, “not bribes”.
The money, he suggested, was to pay the striking Petroleum Guards who had not been paid for some time.
He said that, in giving the cheques he had acted “on his own initiative” and that neither Congress nor the government was aware of his actions. He had done so because he “hoped to find a solution to end the prolonged oil crisis”.
The scandal has not so far affected the government, although Ibrahim Jadhran was reported as saying on Sunday that the reason the Prime Minister had flown to Benghazi on Saturday was to meet him and pay him to end the blockade. He, however, had refused to meet with Ali Zeidan.
Mukhtar, the Libyan National Party’s only member in Congress, referred to the allegation today, saying that he knew nothing about Zeidan’s visit to Benghazi airport.
On Sunday, Ibrahim Jadhran showed photocopies of the cheques.
It is being suggested in some quarters that the whole saga was a set-up by Ibrahim Jadhran, to pressurise the government and Congress into making the political concessions that he and his fellow Cyrenaica Federalists have been demanding – but also in retaliation for the accusations in August that he had tried to sell Libyan oil illegally.
Jadhran heads the Political Bureau of the Cyrenaica Transitional Council.
Questions were being asked today as to how the head of a Congressional committee could have the funds to issue cheques for millions of dinars.
Mukhtar was quoted by the Libyan news agency LANA saying that the LD 2.5 millon was his own money. However, one report says that it was paid from funds belonging to one of his family members who owns a number of petrol stations.
This has raised further questions about the head of the energy committee having a possible conflict of interests.