* Fund has $67 bln in assets, involved in major litigation
* "Evicted" Tripoli chairman launches legal challenge
* Frozen funds vital to rebuild country after years of war
By Aidan Lewis
TRIPOLI, Oct 2 A protracted power struggle over
Libya's $67 billion sovereign wealth fund risks becoming even
more complicated as rival claimants for its chairmanship
challenge a bid for control by a U.N.-backed government in
The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) has been under U.N.
sanctions since the toppling of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi in
2011. The Security Council has extended the sanctions until July
2017, with diplomats saying they want to see a stable government
in Libya before relaxing them.
The LIA was one of several institutions to split after rival
governments and parliaments were set up in 2014 in Tripoli and
in eastern Libya. Now a government mandated by a U.N.-brokered
deal is trying to unite Libya's factions, and is trying to take
control of the LIA.
Those contesting authority over the fund say its assets and
interests are at risk if managed by the wrong people. Libya's
economy is in a state of collapse, and the fund could eventually
be an important source of finance for the war-torn country.
Last month, the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord
(GNA) appointed a steering committee tasked with overseeing the
fund, including its $3.3 billion claims in London courts seeking
to recover funds from Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale.
But AbdulMagid Breish, who was appointed chairman in Tripoli
in 2013, has resisted the committee's efforts to sideline him.
"We have an absolute mish-mash, a chaotic situation that is
duplicated in many other government entities," he said. "We
shouldn't be wasting our time with this."
Speaking to Reuters in Tripoli, Breish said he had launched
a court challenge against the appointment of the steering
committee. He argues it is not legitimate because the GNA's
Presidential Council had yet to be endorsed by the eastern
The newly appointed chairman of the rival, eastern LIA,
Fawzi Omran Farkash, has brought a parallel case against the
steering committee, Breish said. Farkash could not immediately
be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the eastern government, Haitem al-Oraiby,
told Reuters that "any decision taken by the Presidential
Council is unlawful and unrecognised and therefore the new head
of the steering committee is unlawful".
A London-based spokeswoman representing the LIA under the
steering committee, Claire Davidson, said the steering
committee, appointed by a U.N.-mandated government, was needed
to prevent "rogue actions" or any unlicensed attempts to control
the LIA and its assets.
"THEY'VE EVICTED ME"
Breish said he refused to cooperate with a handover team
that came to the LIA's Tripoli offices to ease the steering
committee into place, telling them "if the court says 'yes they
(the steering committee) are legal', then I will gladly hand
over, and absolve myself of any liabilities".
"I kept on going to my office ... and ultimately the militia
that is guarding the building came up to me and said 'we have
instructions from the Presidential Council that you should leave
your office' ... So they've evicted me."
Breish, speaking at an elegant, private office close to
Tripoli's historic centre, said the incident was "quite
peaceful". He said the committee would not be able too do much
work since most of the LIA's funds were frozen and his signature
was still required for any transfers of liquid assets.
The steering committee says Breish illegally reappointed
himself after resigning as chairman in 2014 and has no right to
sign for payments. Breish says he stepped aside for 10 months
after facing a legal challenge, and that the Presidential
Council lacks the authority to replace him.
Breish also contends that the steering committee's
appointment could hamper efforts to claw back money through
international litigation, and undermine his own attempts to
reconcile with Farkash. Davidson said the cases against Goldman
Sachs and Societe Generale were not at risk.
The steering committee recently hosted a gathering of
managers from Tripoli and Malta in Tunis that it called "the
first truly integrated and fully attended meeting" of the fund
since 2014. Breish was not invited.
(Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; editing by Patrick
Markey, Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Trevelyan)