Big Libya $$ in the UK, Interpol Red Notice


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    ODAC projects in Libya

Gaddafi insider accused of using state cash to buy luxury Scottish hotels

Libyan prosecutors ask UK officials for help in investigating claims Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba laundered proceeds of embezzlement in England and Scotland

Guardian: Scottish police are investigating claims by Libyan authorities that a powerful member of Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle used money meant for hospitals and housing to buy luxury hotels in the Highlands and a string of multimillion pound homes.

The allegations were made in confidential documents sent to Scotland’s lord advocate in a request for legal assistance by the Libyan attorney general in 2014. Extracts of these have been shown to the Guardian.

One of an elite group of Gaddafi insiders known as “companions of the leader”, Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba is suspected by Libyan prosecutors of embezzling millions from public funds during his two decades as head of the country’s major infrastructure commission.

Dabaiba may have awarded contracts worth more than £200m to companies that he ultimately controlled, Libyan prosecutors claim. They allege he then laundered the proceeds in England and Scotland. They say he may have been helped by his sons, his brother, and a group of British associates based in Dunfermline, near Edinburgh.

The Dabaiba family have dismissed the allegations as baseless. They maintain that they are not under investigation in Libya, and their lawyer claims they are “not wanted by any judicial, financial or security bodies”. Their alleged associates did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Companies the Dabaibas appear to control, according to Libyan prosecutors, have invested in at least six prestigious properties in England with a current value of more than £25m. In London these include a £16.5m flat in Mayfair, a £1m flat in Marylebone, a £7m house in Hampstead; Land Registry records also show two £1m homes in Surrey.

Dabaiba’s salary at ODAC was equivalent to just £12,000 a year. His declared earnings were not, according to Libyan prosecutors, sufficient to allow him to own these properties.

Officers from Police Scotland’s serious organised crime division are understood to be actively pursuing their own investigation. A Scottish Crown Office spokesman said: “We can confirm we have received a request for mutual legal assistance from the Libyan authorities. As this relates to an ongoing investigation it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

**** Reports have also filtered through social media that one of those arrested is Ali Dabaiba, a former Gaddafi official who is wanted by Interpol for crimes including embezzlement and abuse of office. Dabaiba, formerly in charge of the Libyan Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres, turned against the Gaddafi government and provided financial support for the 2011 uprising that eventually overthrew the former dictator.

Related reading: The Hillary Spy Network

WSJ: 2014, LONDON—Libyan authorities are seeking international help in apprehending a former senior official in Moammar Gadhafi’s government who has been under investigation for alleged crimes including embezzlement and abuse of office.

Interpol last week published a so-called Red Notice seeking Ali Dabaiba, who ran Libya’s main government-contracting office for decades during the Gadhafi era. The notice, posted on Interpol’s website, said Mr. Dabaiba is “wanted by the judicial authorities of Libya for prosecution/to serve a sentence.”

A lawyer for Mr. Dabaiba had no immediate comment. An Interpol spokeswoman said the notice was published on Thursday at the request of Libyan authorities. Officials in the office of Libya’s attorney general weren’t available to comment.

The Interpol notice says the allegations against Mr. Dabaiba, 68 years old, include embezzlement, money laundering, abuse of power and other crimes. The notice didn’t address whether Mr. Dabaiba has been criminally charged in Libya.

Interpol’s Red Notice system is designed to help law-enforcement authorities in one country get assistance from other countries to track down and apprehend suspects. Interpol’s website says that the alerts are “to seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action,” and that the notices are issued “on the basis of a valid national arrest warrant.”

As Libyan authorities try to recoup tens of billions of dollars in assets they believe were looted during Gadhafi’s reign, Mr. Dabaiba’s family has been one focus, according to the investigators and documents submitted to British law-enforcement authorities. Mr. Dabaiba is on a long list of individuals whose assets are restricted in Libya pending further investigation.

Unlike some former government officials who are under investigation, Mr. Dabaiba hasn’t been subject to restrictions on him leaving the country, according to both Libya’s asset-freeze law and the Libyan attorney general’s office.

Among the Dabaiba family’s investments Libyan investigators have been scrutinizing is a 2011 investment in a posh British real-estate agency, Chesterton Humberts, according to people familiar with the investigation and a person close to the family. That investment was the focus of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

Chesterton Humberts said on Twitter this month that the Dabaiba family “are not shareholders” and that the company has “never been approached by Libyan government or any law-enforcement agency.” The tweets didn’t address whether the Dabaiba family previously invested in Chesterton Humberts.

As recently as April, Mr. Dabaiba was living in the Libyan port city of Misrata, although he regularly left the country, said people who know him.

Libya’s audit agency said it found multiple questionable financial decisions at Libya’s Organization for Development of Administrative Centers when Mr. Dabaiba was in charge.

Supporters of Mr. Dabaiba say his family’s financial support for the 2011 revolution that ultimately overthrew Gadhafi makes up for any alleged misdeeds during his years at ODAC

Dabaiba ran the Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC) for two decades until moving to London in 2011, the year Gaddafi was toppled and killed. During that time, ODAC spent an estimated £28bn of public money on building projects in the oil-rich state.

In his request for assistance from Scotland, the recently retired attorney general Abdulkader Radwan claimed “huge amounts of money” may have been “illegally transferred to the banks in Britain and Scotland”. His prosecutors were investigating whether Dabaiba was involved in embezzlement of public money, money laundering, “illicit gain” and abusing an official position.

The information originally came to light through the Panama Papers. A network of more than 100 companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Malta, Liechtenstein and Britain connected to the Dabaibas and their suspected associates has been identified by asset trackers appointed by the Libyan government. More than 40 of them are in Scotland.

Dabaiba’s suspected assets include the 500-year-old Kenmore hotel on the banks of the river Tay, which claims to be Scotland’s oldest inn. The Kenmore is managed by the Aurora Hotel Collection, a small but growing portfolio of boutique Scottish hotels.

Coolbillboards, which places posters on trucks for Morrisons and Homebase, is among a number of businesses in Britain which Libyan prosecutors also suspect may ultimately belong to Dabaiba.

The request for assistance states Kenmore’s controlling companies, Coolbillboards and the Aurora group “may contain assets belonging to the State of Libya”.

Aurora and Coolbillboards did not respond to requests for comment.

On the British register of company directors, Dabaiba has given as his London address an opulent five-bedroom home at Lowndes Court, a short stroll from Harrods in Knightsbridge. It was advertised for sale in 2013 at £16.5m. The flat has been owned for at least five years a BVI company called Panthino Property SA.

An estate agent photograph of the Lowndes Court apartment.
An estate agent photograph of the Lowndes Court apartment. Photograph: Zoopla

BVI regulators forwarded information to Libyan prosecutors in November 2013 which showed an individual called Ali Dabaiba of Misrata, Libya, was the beneficial owner on Panthino. The company is also listed on the Land Registry as having paid £2.9m for a period detached house in Prince Arthur Road in Hampstead in 2006. The property has a market value of £7m today.

Libyan prosecutors claim a Liechtenstein entity called Cirrus Establishment is also ultimately controlled by the family. Cirrus is a former parent company of Coolbillboards. According to the Land Registry it previously owned a plush London apartment at Dorset House, Gloucester Place, in Marylebone, which Dabaiba’s son Al gave as his address in company filings. And in 2014 the Land Registry shows Cirrus bought two large homes in Surrey valued at £1m each.

Dabaiba was also found by Libyan prosecutors to have purchased a property in an imposing terrace on the upmarket Heriot Row in Edinburgh in 1998, paying £475,000, before selling it in 2006 for more than £1m.

Radwan’s letter cited a number of suspected frauds, including alleged overpayments for building housing units.

Later in 2014 his department sent a longer 76-page dossier, compiled by a team of asset trackers including New York-based investigator Ann Marlowe on behalf of the Libyan litigation department.

The dossier also calls for help in investigating taxpayer-funded deals worth more than 437m Libyan dinars (now £225m) for consultancy work on hospital and archaeology projects in Libya, allegedly awarded in 2008 by Dabaiba to companies controlled by twin brothers Malcolm and Andrew Flinn and their associate Steven Turnbull, who operate from an office at Dunfermline.

The directors appear to have little or no experience in these sectors.

Filings show Marco Polo Storica, a Scottish company awarded two contracts for planning restoration work at ancient Greek and Roman sites along the Libyan coast, was originally wholly owned by the Flinns, whose background is in banking; Turnbull, who is a business graduate; and Walter Calesso, an Italian living in Scotland whose previous work was in interior design, according to a biography he posted on one company website. Calesso is named as the signatory for the ODAC contracts, as is Dabaiba.

The Libyan legal assistance request claims: “It is likely that Marco Polo Storica was set up … to misappropriate Libyan state funds in violation of both Libyan and Scots law” and requires investigation.

The same claim is made of Evergreen Consulting Ltd, based in Malta. Part owned by Calesso, the Flinns and Turnbull, according to the Libyan litigation department, from 2008 until 2010, Evergreen signed six contracts with ODAC for supervising construction work on a series of hospitals.

In UK company filings, Turnbull and the Flinns appear as directors and shareholders in dozens of concerns. Of these companies, 35 shared the same address: 16 Comely Park in Dunfermline.

The Libyan prosecutors claim: “In many, if not all, of these companies, they appear to be acting in some capacity on behalf of Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba.”

The Flinn brothers, Turnbull and Calesso did not respond to requests for comment.

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Denise Simon