U.S. freezes Gaddafi assets

Finally the Obama Administration starts to take action against Gaddafi today, albeit in a timid manner. What the people of Libya need is a no-fly zone so that Gaddafi will not be able to bomb them from the air and use chemical weapons against them.

(Al Arabiya) — U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday imposed personal sanctions on Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and several members of his family, in a clear attempt to further weaken his teetering regime and punish brutal assaults against his people.

Obama wielded presidential power in an executive order to seize the assets of Gaddafi and named family members in the United States and globally within the auspices of U.S. financial institutions, saying the “human dignity” of Libyans “cannot be denied.”

Washington also shuttered its Tripoli embassy, warned its spies were seeking evidence of “atrocities” in Libya and said that Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people, in an apparent broad hint that Washington wanted him gone.

Officials said the U.S. sanctions were a direct attempt to prevent any looting of Libya’s assets and sovereign wealth by Gaddafi and his sons amid turmoil which reports said has killed over 1,000 people and split the country.

Privately, sources said, Washington hoped the measures would encourage defections from the regime.

The move also came on the eve of a U.N. Security Council meeting to consider multilateral sanctions on the Gaddafi government, and after the Libyan strongman warned of a looming battle in Tripoli to protect his four-decades-old regime.

“By any measure, Muammar Gaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement.

“These sanctions therefore target the Gaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya.”

“The Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people, and outrageous threats have rightly drawn the strong and broad condemnation of the international community,” Obama said.

“We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Their human dignity cannot be denied.”

U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey told reporters on a conference call that Obama had taken “decisive steps” to hold the Gaddafi regime accountable.

The sanctions contained an annex specifically naming Gaddafi and four sons, but did not single out any other Libyan officials, a sign Washington was hoping to peel off key members of the ruling elite in Tripoli.

The administration did retain the power under the executive order to name other Libyan officials who could be targeted.

And a U.S. official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the measures were specifically crafted to encourage defections.
Fear for safety of Americans

Washington announced the sanctions move — along with the closing of its embassy and withdrawal of U.S. diplomats — after a chartered ferry and a plane carrying Americans and other evacuees left Libya earlier on Friday.

The Obama administration had been criticized for its relatively restrained response so far to the turmoil. But U.S. officials said fears for the safety of the Americans had tempered Washington’s response.

“(Gaddafi) is overseeing the brutal treatment of his people … and his legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said after Libyan security forces shot protesters in the streets of Tripoli on Friday.

The U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which was only opened in 2006, during a tentative rapprochement in U.S.-Libya ties, was shuttered for security reasons and all diplomatic personnel withdrawn, Carney and the State Department said.

The White House also fleshed out its attempts to hold Gaddafi “accountable” in addition to the new sanctions regime.

It warned that it would use the full extent of its “intelligence capabilities to monitor the Gaddafi regime’s actions” and would particularly seek evidence of violence or atrocities committed against the Libyan people.

Carney, however, would not go as far as to say that the White House backed calls for Gaddafi and his lieutenants to eventually face some kind of formal justice, perhaps at the International Criminal Court.
On the financial front, the U.S. Treasury warned U.S. banks to watch out for transfers linked to Libya’s political leaders.

The department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network told banks to be aware of “the potential increased movement of assets that may be related to the situation in Libya,” in a statement released Friday.

Libya and its leaders are suspected of holding billions of dollars in foreign bank accounts, cash largely gleaned from the country’s vast oil wealth.

According to a 2010 message from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, obtained by WikiLeaks, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund holds $32 billion in cash and “several American banks are each managing $300-500 million.”
Clinton to drum up support

With the Libyan crisis also being taken up at the United Nations, European Union governments agreed on the idea of imposing an arms embargo, asset freezes and a travel ban on the oil-producing North African nation, with diplomats saying a formal decision would be taken early next week.

The Obama administration said earlier this week it was studying a wide range of options, including the freezing of assets, a travel ban on members of Gaddafi’s government, a “no-fly” zone over Libya and military action.

In a first step, the U.S. Treasury has told American banks to closely monitor transactions that may be related to unrest in Libya for possible signs that state assets were being misappropriated.

Several U.S. energy companies in Libya — including Marathon, Hess and Occidental — have continued working through the crisis as other foreign firms have curtailed or suspended operations.

If sanctions gain traction internationally, Libya’s oil output could be restricted.

“Although Libya is not a big supplier to the U.S., any sanctions imposed by the U.S. — particularly on doing business with that country — means the U.S. or other countries affected will still have to tap other suppliers,” said Peter Beutel, president of trading consultants Cameron Hanover.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council was considering a French-British draft proposal for an arms embargo, financial sanctions and a request to the International Criminal Court to indict Libyan leaders for crimes against humanity.

The White House did not express direct support for the proposal but said it was discussing it with members of the Security Council, including the other four permanent members — China, Russia, Britain and France.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will push for unity against Gaddafi on Monday at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The United States resumed diplomatic ties with Libya in 2004 after Gaddafi agreed to abandon his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. economic sanctions were progressively removed after Libya agreed to accept civil responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988.

Latest defection

Libya’s envoy to the United Nations, Mohammed Shalgham, a childhood friend of Gaddafi, became the latest official to abandon him, with a diplomat saying he had joined his deputy Ibrahim Dabbashi in defecting.

“Please, the United Nations, save Libya. Let there be no bloodshed, no killing of innocents. We want a decisive, rapid and courageous resolution from you,” Shalgham told the Security Council.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday demanded decisive action by the Security Council against Gaddafi’s bloody crackdown, warning that any delay would add to the growing death toll which he said now came to over 1,000.

Ban’s call and an emotional speech by the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations — in which he raised the specter of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot — jolted the council into ordering a special meeting on Saturday to consider a sanctions resolution against Kadhafi.

In Ankara, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “Mr. Gaddafi must go,” becoming the first world leader to demand the ouster of the former army colonel who seized power in a 1969 coup.

In a rooftop address on Friday, Gaddafi urged his partisans in the square below to “defend Libya.” “If needs be, we will open all the arsenals.

“We will fight them and we will beat them,” he said as frenzied supporters raised his portrait and waved the country’s green flag.

Almost the entire east of the oil-rich North African nation has slipped from Gaddafi’s control since a popular uprising began with protests in the port city of Benghazi on February 15, inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.