The amount of Libyan assets frozen in the UK is more than 10 times the level previously believed ... but the Government still says none of it can be used for IRA victims.
Details of the precise extent of the assets appeared in a document published this week by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is investigating the level of support given to UK victims of Libyan-backed IRA attacks and the possibility of obtaining compensation for them.
Previously, the commonly cited figure for the value of frozen Libyan assets in the UK has been £900m.
But a document from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, published on Wednesday, states that the “approximate aggregate value of funds frozen in UK jurisdiction under EU Regulation 204/2011 is £9,467,630,000” (or £9.47bn).
However, it also adds that the Government is prevented from using any of the funds due to a motion passed by the EU in March 2011.
This was at the time a civil war was engulfing Libya, which ultimately led to the toppling of long-time dictator Colonel Gaddafi – one of the main figures who helped arm the IRA.
The actual motion itself is called “European Union by Council Regulation (EU) No 204/2011”, and has the effect of freezing assets belonging to “listed persons” – such as Gaddafi’s family members – and essentially appears to have been the legal mechanism by which United Nations sanctions against Libya were enforced.
The Foreign Office adds that, although the money is held in the UK’s jurisdiction, the Government itself has no power to seize it.
Its document states that “it is the UK Government’s view that there are no grounds in the EU Regulation (and therefore no legal basis) which would permit a licence to be issued for the purposes of releasing frozen funds to compensate victims of IRA attacks”.
In addition, the document also says the UK may require the permission of the UN Sanctions Committee if it were to seek access to frozen funds.
Despite the widespread bloodshed and anarchy in Libya at present, the document then goes on to add that when it comes to gaining compensation for IRA victims, “it does not appear that all legal remedies in Libya have been exhausted”.
It says that the Government’s preferred remedy is for a deal to be struck between victims and “the relevant Libyan authorities”.
Control of Libya is currently divided among a string of forces in different regions, including Islamic State.
The letter’s author, Tobias Ellwood MP, says: “I will continue to seek similar opportunities as the situation becomes clearer in Libya.
“However, I do not want to raise expectations among victims that an early and substantial settlement of claims in their favour is likely ... we will need to be realistic about what the Libyan government can deliver and in what timeframe.”
Danny Kinahan, UUP MP for South Antrim and a member of the committee, said that the Foreign Office document is “phenomenally important” – because it finally sets out exactly what the grounds are for denying access to the vast Libyan reserves in the UK.
He said the committee had been given indications before that the frozen asset pile may be more valuable than previously thought, but that this is the first time its true scale has been known.
“I don’t think anyone had ever actually bothered to measure it,” he said.
“I think it opens a door for us to examine how we can challenge it in the EU. I don’t think it shuts a door. It just shows that it’s being used as one of the excuses [not to deliver compensation].
“It gives us hope ... we’re looking for every crack we can get into or through.”
He added: “We’re not going to let this go.”
As previously reported, Tony Blair looks set to be called to the committee to answer questions in detail.