The Libyan government has tapped a pair of US law firms for help recovering billions of dollars of assets stolen by the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi and his cronies and stashed around the world.
According to a new lobbying filing, the Libya Asset Recovery & Management Office (LARMO) hired Baker & Hostetler in late October 2020 for legal services. The firm has just now disclosed its work however as it begins to conduct outreach to US government officials, which requires registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
In an emailed statement, LARMO’s press office said Holland & Knight is also helping “lead the worldwide recovery effort for the benefit of Libya and the Libyan people” and will likewise be registering under FARA.
“Holland & Knight and Baker & Hosteler will soon be taking legal and political steps in the United States to help with Libya’s asset recovery efforts, in addition to the litigation analysis performed to date,” the LARMO press office said.
“The global asset recovery is substantial, and the breadth of neglected and dissipated assets and the significant timeframe for both graft and neglect represent a meaningful portion of GDP that should be returned to the Libyan people,” the office said. “This effort will be a combination of steps, including litigation, government cooperation, and the help of numerous individuals and entities.”
“Each situation will be considered on its own merits and the focus is worldwide. There are potential recoveries and subjects to consider in various countries around the world, including in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The people registered are all asset recovery specialists.”
According to its registration, Baker & Hostetler is providing “legal representation with respect to asset tracing and recovery proceedings, including the ordinary tasks involved in such work — investigations, fact development, legal research and analysis, preparation of motions, briefs and other filings and so forth,” the registration states. “Additional activities may include contacts with U.S. Government officials with respect to the foreign principal’s activities and bona fides.”
LARMO, a semi-sovereign institution, was created by presidential decree in November 2017. The Libyans believe Gadhafi regime officials including Bashir Saleh Bashir, former head of Libyan African Portfolio the sovereign wealth fund, and former infrastructure development chief Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba — cousin of current Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba — hid close to $10 billion in places such as South Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
LARMO has indicated that “it is not in a position to pay legal fees at this time,” according to its contract with Baker & Hostetler. Instead, the firm is relying on so-called “litigation funding,” an arrangement in which an third-party funder may obtain a share of the proceeds of the claim if it results in a favorable judgment or settlement.
Weeks before the contract was signed, the European Union and the United Nations launched a training program to help LARMO and other Libyan institutions combat corruption and money laundering.
Libyans “deserve accountability and transparency from all public officials,” Antonia Marie De Meo, the director of the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, said at the time. “The Libyan people should also benefit from the recovery of stolen assets which — when recovered — can be directed to key public sectors such as health care and education.”
But some experts remain skeptical.
Jason Pack, the founder of the US-based consultancy Libya-Analysis LLC, pointed out that asset recovery was a top priority in the years immediately following the fall of Gadhafi. Much of those efforts, he said, turned out to be a “scam” in which certain Libyan officials hired bounty hunters and lined their pockets through finders’ fees.
The new Government of National Unity, he said, has “been talking a lot about foreign asset recovery because they’re economic people and they want to show quick wins to the Libyan people. This is one of those issues where all Libyans — easterners and westerners — agree they should get their money back.”
The contract with Baker & Hostetler was signed by LARMO President Anwar Arif and law firm partner Oren Warshavsky, the co-leader of the firm’s Global Fraud and International Asset Tracing and Recovery team. Also registered as foreign agents on the account are partners Paul Levine, Tatiana Markel, Michelle Usitalo and Gonzalo Zeballos.