Qaddafi sold gold from country’s reserves to pay salaries

TRIPOLI: Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime sold about 20 percent of the country’s gold reserves to cover salaries, as he struggled to hold onto power during the final months of the civil war, the new governor of Libya’s central bank said Thursday.Qassim Azzuz also said that none of the bank’s roughly $115 billion in assets “went missing or were stolen” during the six months of fighting.

That figure, however, did not include money the Qaddafi family is believed to have in hiding outside the banking sector, he said.The sale in April of 29 tons of the roughly 145 tons of gold Libya is believed to have in reserve reflects the challenges Qaddafi confronted as he struggled to crush what began as a mass uprising in the east and quickly mushroomed into a full-blown civil war. Brutal assaults on the country’s civilian population by forces loyal to the Libyan strongman resulted in sweeping international sanctions and NATO airstrikes.

The sanctions froze Libya’s massive foreign assets, which stand at about 110 percent of GDP, according to several analysts, and had many speculating that Qaddafi was either raiding the central bank’s coffers or selling gold to pay troops that included foreign mercenaries.Azzuz told reporters that the gold was sold to local traders, netting 1.7 billion dinars ($1.4 billion) that was used to pay salaries, particularly in the Tripoli area. The Libyan capital was one of the last places in which Qaddafi retained a firm grasp on power.Asked if the gold sale violated sanctions, Azzuz said that the issue was not “of relevance because it was local liquidation of gold in Libya in exchange for dinars.”But he acknowledged that gold sold to the local traders likely made it across the country’s western border to Tunisia.

The revelation came as Qaddafi’s loyalists fired at least 10 rockets from inside one of his last strongholds Thursday, hours after the ousted leader urged his fighters to crush opponents he ridiculed as germs and rats.Former rebels have massed outside the desert town of Bani Walid for days waiting for orders to take the town, but the rocket fire marked an escalation in the standoff, which could reach a climax when a deadline for surrender negotiations runs out this weekend.The high cost of bringing down Qaddafi’s nearly 42-year-rule over the oil-rich nation, meanwhile, came into sharper relief, as the country’s interim health minister announced that at least 30,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded during the six-month civil war.

Though they overran the capital last month, drove Qaddafi into hiding and now run a leadership council that is the closest thing to a Libyan government, the fighters cannot claim victory until the remaining handful of loyalist strongholds are under their control and — most importantly — Qaddafi is captured.Reporters with the forces chasing remaining Qaddafi loyalists heard at least 10 loud explosions along the desert front line at Bani Walid. The barrage followed a close-quarters gunfight in the same area between a patrol of fighters and several loyalist youths in a civilian car. One of the Qaddafi gunmen was killed. – Yahoonews