Libya customs officers arrested over 26-tonne gold shipment

The gold bars worth $1.9 billion were seized during an attempt to traffic them through the international airport of Misrata


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Libyan security forces man a check point in Misrata. — Photo: AFP file
Libyan security forces man a check point in Misrata. — Photo: AFP file

Published: Mon 13 May 2024, 7:23 PM

Libyan authorities have arrested several customs officials for attempting to traffic abroad about 26 tonnes of gold worth almost 1.8 billion euros ($1.9 billion), prosecutors said.

The Libyan prosecutor's office did not detail the suspected origin of the massive amount of precious metal, greater than the national gold reserves of many countries.

Authorities in Misrata, western Libya, made the arrests related to the trafficking operation at the port city's international airport, the office said on Sunday night.

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"The investigating authorities ordered the arrest of the director general of customs and customs officials at the international airport of Misrata," it said in a statement released on Facebook.

The officials had attempted in December 2023 to traffic the gold bars weighing some 25,875 kilograms, currently worth almost 1.8 billion euros, the statement said.

Libyan law says only the central bank can export gold, said the office, which opened an investigation into the case in January.

Libya has been plagued by political instability and violence since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Gadhafi.

The country is split between Abdelhamid Dbeibah's UN-recognised government in Tripoli and a rival administration in the east, backed by strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Misrata, east of the capital Tripoli, played a key role in fighting Gadhafi's forces, as well as against the Daesh group's fighters in 2016, and in battling against a failed offensive by Haftar's forces against the capital Tripoli in 2019.

The US-based non-government group The Sentry, which investigates trafficking in conflict areas, said that chaos-torn Libya has become a key hub for illicit gold trafficking over the past decade.

"Particularly since 2014, Libya has been used as a transit area toward places such as the UAE and, to a lesser extent, Turkey" for trafficking gold, according to report the group published last November.

"Two crucial points of transit are used to export gold on an illicit basis: The port and airports of the Misrata-Zliten-Khums area and those of Benghazi" in the east, the report said.

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