TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya had sought to question Muammar Gaddafi’s former oil chief in a graft inquiry before his body was found in the Danube river in Austria this week, Prosecutor General Abdelaziz Al-Hasadi said on Wednesday.
He declined to elaborate on the investigation involving Shokri Ghanem, who as National Oil Corporation (NOC) head long ran the Libyan oil industry before defecting a year ago during the uprising that toppled Gaddafi and moving to Vienna.
That role made Ghanem, a former premier who was also close to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, privy to potentially damaging information on oil deals with Western governments and oil firms.
Al-Hasadi, speaking to Reuters, would not confirm whether the investigation was related to Ghanem’s tenure atop the NOC from 2006.
Libya “issued a warrant to bring him in. They only asked him to provide certain information, but this warrant is inactive on the international level,” he said, adding that such a warrant did not necessarily mean that Ghanem was to be arrested.
Libyan authorities sent the warrant to Interpol around a month ago but had received “no decisive reply yet”, he added.
Ghanem’s lawyer had been in touch about the request, he said. “Our request to bring him to Libya does not mean he was guilty, that was up to a court to decide,” Hasadi added.
A passerby discovered Ghanem’s fully clothed body in the Danube early on Sunday, a few hundred metres (yards) from his home in a 22-storey apartment block.
Austrian authorities say they have not detected foul play in the drowning, but friends and colleagues suspect enemies may have killed the man who knew more than anyone about Gaddafi’s suspected multi-billion-dollar fortune.
In Libya’s first official reaction to the news of Ghanem’s death, transitional government spokesman Nasser El-Manee said the North African country was following the matter.
“We were surprised to hear the news of Shokri Ghanem’s death. According to the police reports, the death wasn’t a crime,” El-Manee told a news conference. “Some people have expressed their wish that he be buried in Libya. The government will soon announce details,” he said, without elaborating.
Ghanem’s nephew, Loayi Ghanem, has told Reuters the family hoped to bring the body back to Libya on Thursday.
Ghanem, 69, was one of the most powerful men in Gaddafi’s Libya - effectively controlling the purse strings of the government and the Gaddafi family.
He would have had enemies among Gaddafi’s opponents because of his years at the centre of power, as well as among the late leader’s friends and kin because of his decision to defect.
There were also suggestions that Ghanem had health problems.
Nihal Goonewardene, a Washington-based friend of Ghanem’s since graduate school in Boston, said Ghanem had told a house guest on Saturday evening that he was not feeling well and left early on Sunday for a walk from which he did not return.
A few days before, he had told a friend that he had recently had a series of medical tests and was concerned about getting bad results, Goonewardene told Reuters this week.
Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Ali Shuaib in Tripoli and by Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich