Libyan caretaker prime minister denies Zeidan fled country

Although a travel ban was imposed on Zeidan after losing a vote of confidence in parliament, Zeidan flew out on a private jet

Ali Zeidan
Ali Zeidan

Libya’s caretaker premier Abdullah Thinni says his ousted predecessor did not run away. 

Abdullah Thinni, Libya’s new interim prime minister said that in his view, his predecessor Ali Zeidan who was ousted by the Libyan Parliament on Tuesday did “not run away.”

Reportedly, Zeidan flew to Dusseldorf on a Maltese private jet Tuesday evening after stopping for a couple of hours in Malta, where he held a brief meeting with prime minister Joseph Muscat.

Although a travel ban was imposed on Zeidan after losing a vote of confidence in parliament, Zeidan flew out on a private jet and various news agencies have reported that he made his way to Germany, where Zeidan and his family lived before the 2011 revolution.

The travel ban was imposed by the Attorney General over Zeidan’s alleged involvement in financial corruption and other irregularities.

Speaking following the lightening events which brought to an end Zeidan’s 16-month stint at the helm of the fraught North African country, Thinni said that it was perfectly legitimate and within Zeidan’s right to travel, as guaranteed by Libya’s Transitional Constitutional Declaration.

Zeidan’s departure was interpreted in some quarters as hasty attempt to defy the travel ban imposed by the Attorney General Abdel Qadar Radwan.

The travel ban, directed to the head of the Passports Agency, was issued on Tuesday night to prevent Zeidan from fleeing the country before ongoing investigations into financial irregularities are completed.

The alleged irregularities concern payments to armed groups controlling three oil export terminals in the east of the country to end their  blockades.

Ibrahim Jadhran, the self-styled leader of the federalists occupying the eastern ports, accused Zeidan’s government of trying to bribe him with 30 million Libyan Dinars (€17.2 million) to end the blockade in September last year.

Despite Zeidan’s denials, Naji Mukhtar, the controversial head of the GNC Energy Committee, admitted giving a number of cheques  to one of Jadhran’s brothers Salem.

Although one cheque for 2.5 million Libyan Dinars (€1.4 million) was reportedly cashed, Mukhtar said that these could not be considered  bribery because the accounts held insufficient funds for them to be honoured. 

German connection

Before former Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, Zeidan worked as a human rights lawyer in Geneva, Switzerland.

He served as a diplomat for Libya in the 1970s under Ambassador Mohammed Magariaf but both men defected in 1980 and went on to form the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

Zeidan spent nearly three decades in exile in Geneva and in Germany after the defection.

Curiously, in February, Zeidan had also stopped in Malta for a few hours on his way to Libya from Switzerland. Although the reasons for his visit to Switzerland and his stop in Malta are not clear, the official version of the Maltese authorities said that he had stopped in Malta for technical reasons.  

During his short-lived term as prime minister, Zeidan came under attack by political adversaries who accused him of holding dual nationality – a technicality that would have forced Zeidan to resign.

In reply he had said: “I am Ali Zeidan, an authentic Libyan, and if you are not sure of your Prime Minister, please let me know if you decide to correspond, with the German Foreign Ministry, in order to preserve the image of the Libyan state and its government in front of the world.”

Vote of no-confidence

Libya's parliament removed Zeidan on Tuesday after rebels holding three key ports in eastern Libya disobeyed government orders and let shipments be handled by the state-run National Oil Corporation.

On Tuesday, the large North Korea-flagged tanker Morning Glory, loaded with crude oil from the rebel-controlled port of Sidra, escaped through a improvised naval blockage imposed by Zeidan. The tanker then entered international waters.

Zeidan had previously threatened to bomb the 37,000-ton vessel if it set sail.

Fighting broke out briefly later on Tuesday in the central coastal city of Sirte, between rebels and pro-government forces.

Caretaker premier

The Libyan parliament appointed defense minister Abdullah Thinni as caretaker premier for 15 days after the GNC’s speaker, Nuri Abu Sahmain, had been engaged in a power struggle with Zeidan.

Zeidan, identified as a liberal nationalist, has been targeted since his election in 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in the GNC, but before Tuesday they lacked the necessary votes.

A number of liberals and nationalists voted together with the Islamist party to oust Zeidan, however details of the vote have not been published.

As a result, there are increasing calls for more transparency with civil society demanding the publication of who voted for and against the vote of no confidence in Zeidan who is widely perceived to have been ineffective and perhaps corrupt.

The interim prime minister, Abdullah Thinni, who comes from the Islamist party confirmed that he considers his government as purely a “caretaker government” until the GNC appoints a new Prime Minister at the end of his two weeks tenure.

Thinni also confirmed that he would uphold the GNC decisions which he described as “constitutional.” However, it wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the removal of Zeidan, which some of his supporters in the congress have said was “unconstitutional” or the decision  to hold parliamentary elections in June.

Since the 2011 ouster of Gadhafi, Libya has been divided along tribal, regional and political lines, with hardline Islamists opposed to more liberal figures such as Zeidan.

The country has no effective army or police and its Tripoli-based government risks running out of money because of rebel activities.