Libya’s Top Oil Official Ghanem Flees Qaddafi Regime, Rebel Spokesman Says

Libya’s top oil official, Shokri Ghanem, defected from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, said a spokesman for the rebel group at war with the country’s leader.

Ghanem, who chaired the state-owned National Oil Corp., arrived in the Tunisian capital Tunis, Mahmud Alwerfalli said today in Doha. Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency reported that Ghanem is now in Austria, citing another rebel spokesman, Mohammed al-Menaifi.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said he had no information about whether Ghanem is in Austria.

Clashes between Qaddafi’s troops and opposition forces in Libya have killed thousands since February and helped push oil prices higher. Crude output from Libya, holder of Africa’s largest oil reserves, “will remain absent from the market for the rest of 2011,” the International Energy Agency said May 12.

Oil surged after anti-government protests in Libya erupted on Feb. 15. Brent crude futures rose above $126 a barrel on April 8, the highest since July 2008.

Crude for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell as much as $1.08 to $96.29 a barrel and was at $96.37 at 1:55 p.m. London time. It fell 2.3 percent yesterday to $97.37, the lowest settlement since May 6. Prices have risen 38 percent in the past year.

Top Oil Official

Ghanem, 68, has served since 2006 as the state company’s chairman, the highest-ranking position in the nation’s oil industry as Libya doesn’t have an energy ministry.

A former head of research at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Ghanem was appointed prime minister by Qaddafi in 2003, with the task of opening up the economy to private investments, both local and foreign.

Ali Tarhouni, the rebel group’s finance minister, said he hopes to represent Libya at the OPEC meeting next month in Vienna.

Libyan oil production dropped to 240,000 barrels a day last month, or 15 percent of its average output of 1.56 million barrels in 2010, OPEC’s latest monthly report showed.

Ghanem earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Libya in 1963 and a doctorate in international economics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston in 1975, according to the national oil company’s website. He is married and has a son and three daughters.

NATO Air Strikes

NATO said British jets hit two targets overnight in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, that they identified as a command-and- control building and a military-training facility. The alliance said it has helped push loyalist forces back in rebel-held city of Misrata.

“NATO is keeping up the pressure and we can see the results on the ground,” Oana Lungescu, the alliance’s chief spokeswoman, told reporters today in Brussels. Wing Commander Mike Bracken, speaking to reporters from NATO’s mission command in Naples, Italy, said allied jets hit a “huge” number of targets in the last few days and are increasingly aiming at Qaddafi’s military infrastructure.

He said regime forces are planting floating booby traps off the coast of Misrata, seeking to lure rescuers and blow them up.

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Tuttle in Doha at rtuttle@bloomberg.net; Ayesha Daya in Dubai at adaya1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss at sev@bloomberg.net

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