Libya’s Former Oil Head Ghanem Found Dead in Vienna River

Libya’s top oil official Shokri Ghanem
Libya’s top oil official Shokri Ghanem. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Shokri Ghanem, Libya’s former prime minister and top oil official who defected to the rebels in June, was found dead in the Danube River in Vienna, Austrian police said.

Ghanem’s body was discovered floating in the river at 8:40 a.m. yesterday, a few hundred meters from where he lived, according to Roman Hahslinger, a spokesman for the police in the Austrian capital. Initial signs show death by drowning. A full autopsy and toxicology tests will be carried out in coming days.

“The result of the preliminary autopsy is that death occurred because of drowning,” Hahslinger told a press briefing by the side of the Danube today, near a bridge known as Reichsbruecke. “We have yet to find any signs of foul play.”

The body, fully clothed and found 20 meters (65 feet) from the shoreline, had not been in the water for more than one or two hours. His daughter, who lives with him, said Ghanem was feeling unwell the night before, the police said.

“The rumor of a heart attack is being examined closely,” Hahslinger said. “The preliminary autopsy didn’t show any evidence of this.”

2011 Uprising

Ghanem, 69, was previously chairman of Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp. The uprising against former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi broke out in February 2011, and Ghanem left the government about four months later, the rebel National Transitional Council said in a June 1 statement. He didn’t join the post-Qaddafi administration, and the rebel council picked Nuri Berruien to head the NOC last September.

Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, according to BP Plc, and is the continent’s third-biggest producer. The nation pumped about 1.35 million barrels a day this month, approaching its pre-war output of 1.6 million barrels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Ghanem said in February that he was living in Austria, working as a consultant, and that he would like to return to his home country.

Until defecting, he served from 2006 as the state company’s chairman, the highest-ranking position in Libya’s oil industry as the country had no energy ministry. As such, he represented Libya at OPEC’s ministerial conferences of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

OPEC Research Head

Ghanem had lived in Vienna through most of the 1990s when he was OPEC’s head of research. The producer group had no comment on his death today when Bloomberg News called its Vienna-based secretariat, where he worked from 1993 to 2001. He later moved back to Libya after Qaddafi appointed him prime minister in 2003, with the task of opening up the economy to private investment, both local and foreign.

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 at Tufts University in Boston in 1975, according to the NOC’s website. He was married and had a son and three daughters.

While oil output has recovered after falling to virtually zero during the civil conflict, political upheaval still threatens to disrupt supply. Arabian Gulf Oil Co. may halt production if the government fails by May 3 to clear protesters who have been blocking the entrance to the state-run company’s headquarters in Benghazi for a week, Abdul Jalil Mayuf, manager of the company’s information department said today by telephone. Agoco supplies about one quarter of Libya’s crude.

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