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China, Russia 'lost' oil race in Libya: ex-minister

by Staff Writers
Rome (AFP) April 7, 2011
A former top minister in Moamer Kadhafi's regime who has fled to Europe in a fishing trawler told AFP in an interview that he believes China and Russia have "lost" the race for oil in Libya.

"Kadhafi has no future now," said Fathi Ben Shatwan, a former Kadhafi ally whose last government post was as energy minister and who made a dramatic escape from the besieged city of Misrata under fire from government troops.

"I will help the opposition in any way I can," said the academic.

Ben Shatwan was an instrumental figure in Libya's bid in recent years to rehabilitate itself with the West following the lifting of sanctions, including by opening up its vast oil wealth to a growing number of foreign energy majors.

A chancellor of Garyounis University in Benghazi in the 1980s, Ben Shatwan occupied various government posts from 1987 until 2006 including as energy minister between 2004 and 2006 before returning to academia.

"The new democracy will deal very well with the people who helped us" including with oil sector rewards for Italy and France, which have officially recognised the opposition interim national council in Benghazi.

"Russia and China lost. They shouldn't have done this," he said, referring to the abstention of Moscow and Beijing from a UN Security Council vote that authorised military intervention by international powers in Libya.

He dismissed Kadhafi's threats to grant oil contracts to Russia and China as "a sort of game" by a desperate man.

Ben Shatwan, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering, arrived in Malta by boat on Friday after a 20-hour journey from Misrata. He agreed to speak to AFP on condition that his current location in Europe was not disclosed.

He recounted his student activism against the monarchy in the 1960s and his initial enthusiasm for Kadhafi's coup in 1969.

But he said his disillusionment set in in the early 1980s when the regime became increasingly corrupt and Kadhafi began executing his opponents.

"The revolution was very good. Especially in the first 10 years. All the people were with him. There was a lot of development," he said.

But he said he witnessed huge amounts of corruption during his time as minister and believes that many of Kadhafi's billions are still hidden despite extensive international sanctions approved to freeze his assets.

"There's a lot of other money hidden. Billions. They have the means of using other names. There are a lot of tricks," he said.

Most of the corrupt oil money "was taken by the family," he added.

Following the resignation of Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa in London last month and his own defection, Ben Shatwan said other government figures are willing to leave Kadhafi but are still too scared to do so.

"None of the ministers are with the regime. They would like to do like Mussa Kussa but they can't because of their families. They are frightened."

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