TRIPOLI, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A claimant for the chairmanship of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund says he has retaken control of the fund’s head office in Tripoli, in a challenge to a U.N.-backed government that tried to sideline him.
The move is the latest step in a long-running feud over the $67 billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) that reflects Libya’s political turmoil and has complicated prospects for any return to regular management of the fund.
Much of the fund has been frozen under sanctions, though it remains one of Libya’s key financial bodies. It has also been involved in high-profile litigation, including cases against Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale .
The U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) named the steering committee to run the LIA in August, as it tried to gain control over institutions that had been split under two other, competing governments.
The decision was contested by AbdulMagid Breish, who was appointed chairman in Tripoli in 2013 and says he was evicted from LIA headquarters in September by guards acting on behalf of the GNA. [nL8N1C70HY}
Breish reentered the building on Sunday. On Monday he received a Reuters reporter in his office, saying a ruling by the Tripoli Appeals Court last month had given him the right to return by freezing the decree that created the steering committee.
Breish denied GNA claims that he had forced his way into Tripoli Tower, where the LIA is based.
“I entered the office without any use of force,” he said. “The tower’s administration informed the steering committee and they left without any violations or the use of militias.”
Staff in the building appeared to be working normally.
Each side claims the LIA’s assets could be at risk unless it is in control, with Breish citing litigation cases that could be hampered by the involvement of the steering committee. “Some cases in front of international courts have a deadline,” he said.
He acknowledged that the Tripoli Appeals Court ruling was not definitive, adding: “The court continues to hold sessions until a final decision is reached ... but the initial decision is enforceable.”
The GNA’s leadership, the Presidential Council, reacted by warning all state institutions not to deal with Breish.
“In order to preserve public money it is forbidden to deal with any person or party that does not have legal and legitimate status according to the decisions of the GNA’s Presidential Council,” it said in a statement.
Reached by phone, the head of the steering committee, Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed, said he had no comment.
The steering committee says Breish illegally reappointed himself after resigning as chairman in 2014. Breish says he stepped aside for 10 months after facing a legal challenge, and that the GNA lacks the authority to replace him.
The U.N. Security Council said last year that it was prepared to consider changes to sanctions on the LIA only once the GNA could confirm that it exercised full control over the fund, as well as Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and its central bank.
But the country remains deeply divided between factions based in Tripoli and the east. A government in eastern Libya, which rejects the GNA, has tried to set up rival branches of the LIA, the NOC and the central bank. (Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Roche)