A Libyan lawmaker denied bribing an armed military group to reopen key oil ports, saying the money he handed over was part of mediation efforts in a dispute that’s clogged crude production and sales.
Naji Mokhtar, the head of parliament’s energy committee, paid 2.5 million dinars ($2 million) of his own money to a senior member of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, which have closed three ports in eastern Libya, the lawmaker said today.
“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures,” Mokhtar said at a press conference in Tripoli. “I went to them thinking they would have a sense of patriotism.”
Oil output in Libya, which sits on Africa’s largest proven reserves, has slumped to about 600,000 barrels a day from 1.6 million a day a year ago as port shutdowns cripple exports. Two years after the 2011 war that swept the late Muammar Qaddafi from power, efforts to revive an economy dependent on oil are being stymied by demands from the PFG, an arm of the military that protects oil installations, for more funding and resources.
The north African country has lost $5 billion since the start of the year because of port closures, which threaten its reputation as a dependable exporter, Mokhtar said. The Finance Ministry also has said the government budget may suffer, forcing it to dip into other funds.
Mokhtar traveled to the eastern city of Ajdabiya, where the armed guards are based, on Sept. 21, he said today. There he met the brother of Ibrahim Al Jedran, a former commander with the PFG who was in charge of the middle and eastern regions where the ports of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and Hariga are located. The three terminals have capacity to export a combined 1.1 million barrels of crude a day, according to Mokhtar.
The lawmaker said he submitted the payment and four blank “IOUs” the next day in exchange for reopening the ports. On Sept. 22, Al Jedran appeared on several television channels saying he received 2 million dinars from Mokhtar, and was promised 30 million dinars from Prime Minister Ali Zaidan, according to Abdullah Alhesnawi, director of the PFG’s press office. Zaidan was unable to comment immediately.
Mokhtar said he hadn’t informed other members of parliament of his move or spoken about it with Zaidan. He didn’t want the payment made public to avoid spurring other groups to make similar demands. Parliament has appointed a committee to investigate the matter and questioned Mokhtar yesterday for two hours, he said, without elaborating.
The PFG has about 18,000 armed men, including about 5,000 protecting oil installations in central Libya. The group’s demands have included more equipment, uniforms and patrol cars, and an increase to the 186 million dinars allocated to the force annually, Mokhtar said. The PFG started closing the ports in July.