Libyan oil chief: investment could help west recover lost moral authority

The international community has lost moral authority in Libya and can best help the country by acting to end oil smuggling and providing investment to boost production, the chairman of the Libyan National Oil Corporation, Mustafa Sanalla, has said.

Sanalla is the most respected technocrat in a country riven by militias, political deadlock and corruption ever since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled with the help of western forces in 2011. He told the Guardian on Wednesday: “We can use oil to unify the country.”

Libya has had a self-imposed moratorium on foreign investment in its oil industry since 2011, which Sanalla has announced is to end.

A restoration of oil production is widely seen as the only way for the debt-ridden Libyan economy to recover. Sanalla has become increasingly outspoken at the failure of the Libyan politicians to reach agreement on the terms of a unity government.

The Tripoli-based, and UN-backed, Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj has been at loggerheads with General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), who supports a parallel authority based in eastern Libya. More than a year of talks have produced no compromise.

Sanalla claimed “millions of dollars in proceeds from oil smuggling are now partly in the hands of terrorist groups” as he urged the new administration of Donald Trump to engage with Libya. He warned the groups would try to use the cash to plan further attacks on Europe, as well as funding illegal migration across the Mediterranean.

He said smuggling was taking place by sea and by land through Tunisia and might account for as much as 40% of the country’s consumption.