Tripoli CBL claims it has no objection to its international audit – international veiled threat of sanctioning its CBL Governor

By Sami Zaptia.

(Logo: Tripoli CBL).

London, 13 July 2020:

The Tripoli Central Bank (CBL) of Libya has again claimed that it has no objection to an international audit being conducted of both its books and that of its rival in eastern Libya.

The revelation from the Tripoli CBL came today in its brief statement announcing that its Governor, Saddek El-Kaber, had initiated a telephone call with Acting UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams. Specifically, the Tripoli CBL statement said ‘‘a number of files of common interest were discussed, at the top of which was the international audit file of the Central Bank of Libya and the parallel bank in Al-Beida (in eastern Libya), and the (Tripoli CBL) governor confirmed in particular the position of the Central Bank of Libya on completing the review process unhindered’’.

The use of the term ‘‘unhindered’’ by the Tripoli CBL comes on the back of allegations that it is precisely the Tripoli CBL – and El-Kaber in particular – that is ‘‘hindering’’ the international audit of both of Libya’s competing central banks.

Governor El-Kaber initiated phone call to the Acting UNSMIL head is seen by analysts to have been in response to the strong language used by the U.S. Embassy yesterday in the section of its statement referring to the CBL audit.

It will be recalled that the U.S. Embassy put out a strong statement yesterday in reaction to the reinstatement of Libya’s oil blockade – after it was only ended on the previous Friday. The U.S. Embassy statement had said that the ‘‘Illegal obstruction of the long-overdue audit of the banking sector further undermines the desire of all Libyans for economic transparency.’’

It went on to say that ‘‘These disappointing actions will not deter the Embassy from its commitment to work with responsible Libyan institutions, such as the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the House of Representatives (HOR), to protect Libya’s sovereignty, achieve a lasting ceasefire, and support a Libyan consensus on the transparent management of oil and gas revenues.’’

It had also warned that ‘‘however, those who undermine Libya’s economy and cling to military escalation will face isolation and risk of sanctions’’. Before concluding that ‘‘We are confident the Libyan people see clearly who is prepared to help Libya move forward and who instead has chosen irrelevance’’, the statement concluded.

The reference to ‘‘Illegal obstruction of the long-overdue audit of the banking sector further undermines the desire of all Libyans for economic transparency’’, and ‘‘the transparent management of oil and gas revenues’’ section of the statement are seen as being directed at the Tripoli CBL.

CBL independent international audit demanded since 2018

The subject of the international audit of the CBL was initially demanded by the internationally recognized prime minister of Libya, Faiez Serraj, back in 2018. It had been welcomed by the UN Security Council and initially by the Tripoli CBL too. Numerous meetings were subsequently held to agree on the terms of reference of the independent audit.

Serraj’s call on 11 July 2018 to the UN to establish an international committee to audit the transactions of the Central Banks came after the LNA had at the time handed over the eastern oil crescent from reneged Petroleum Facilities Guard leader Ibrahim Jadran to the eastern-based National Oil Corporation (NOC), rather than returning them to the Tripoli NOC. It had done this based on the pretext that the Tripoli CBL was financing what they called Islamists or terrorists – including Ibrahim Jadran.

The CBL refutes this allegations.

From its statement, the U.S clearly sees the issue of the accountability and transparency of how Libya’s oil money is spent by the two competing Central banks as a genuine central grievance of eastern Libya – a grievance that if not dealt with might lead Libya to continued oil blockade and to another deeper round of fighting – backed by interfering states on both sides.

U.S. interest in Libya had peaked recently only due to increased Russian interference and specifically the military interference of the private military company, Wagner, which it sees as a proxy arm of Russian foreign policy.

After sitting on the side lines for years, and specifically for the 14 months while Hafter conducted his onslaught on Tripoli, the U.S now wants an end to Libya’s fighting – or to be more precise the foreign interference in Libya’s fighting. To this end of pursuing its national interest, the US wants to remove any grievances / pretexts that Hafter and the east may have for continuing to blockade Libya’s oil and continuing the war. The U.S also hopes that the end of fighting removes any pretext for continued foreign military interference.

An audit of the two Libyan central banks is seen by the U.S as fundamental to that, and conversely, any obstruction of that audit is seen by the U.S as reigniting the war.

It will also be recalled that the Tripoli CBL has been seen as attempting to obstruct the blockade by referring it to Libya’s Tripoli-based Audit Bureau. Ultimately, Libya’s courts were involved in the matter and they cleared the audit as being legal. Hence, the U.S. now sees any delay as ‘‘illegal obstruction’’ and warmongering.

The matter of the central bank audits also adds further support to the view that all the fighting in Libya since the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi has been about access to, and control of, Libya’s hydrocarbon rentier wealth.

Reunifying Libya’s two central banks – saving the banking system

Equally, from a banking perspective, the independent audit is seen as the precursor to uniting the two split central banks. Both banks have accused the other of misappropriation of state funds and have insisted that they would not agree to reunification of the Bank’s previously united board of directors – until an independent audit has been conducted to apportion blame – if need be.

The eastern CBL has been calling for a reunification of the board – but the Tripoli CBL has again thrown up pretexts and conditions. Many independent analysts hold the view that neither central bank genuinely wants reunification – with vested parties benefiting from disunity, disorder, a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability.

However, Libya’s business community has warned that the country’s whole banking system is now on the verge of collapse as the Tripoli CBL has cut off branches in the east. This cutting off of the supply of liquidity, access to hard currency at the preferential official rate (opening of LCs), shutting down the bank clearing system for eastern banks and refusing to accept reserves held in the east, is expected to bring down the eastern banking system. But, equally, in a domino effect, it is also expected to bring down all of Libya’s banking system – if the status quo continues.

 

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