PE Firms May Be Impacted By Libyan Asset Freeze

The Libyan Investment Authority, the $70 billion sovereign wealth fund established in 2006, was until recently seen as an important key to bringing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s state closer to former adversaries like Britain and the United States.

Now that Gaddafi’s troops have attacked rebels pushing to overthrow him, and Libya is on the verge of civil war, the United States and European Union have moved to freeze more than $30 billion of Libya’s assets—a move with potential ramifications for buyout shops that have taken money from the Libyan Investment Authority.

According to media reports, Carlyle Group is among the U.S. financial firms, including Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase, that have held Libyan assets. Libya also holds large stakes in public companies like Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, UniCredit, the Italian bank, and Juventus, the Italian soccer team. The U.S. Treasury Department is not publicly identifying which financial firms hold Libyan assets.

A Carlyle Group spokesman said he won’t comment on reported investments by Libya, nor will he confirm or deny the firm still holds them. Carlyle’s chief, David Rubenstein, told Reuters at the Super Return conference in Berlin that Gaddafi himself was not an investor with Carlyle. Rubenstein said he would not elaborate on whether the firm had any clients who were impacted by the freeze of Libyan assets.

Until recent events, the mating dance to lure Libya’s money had been an intense affair.

The object of affection was Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, which was set up just three years after UN sanctions were lifted in 2003. As part of the Libya’s détente with the West, the United States and Britain not only nudged their companies to invest in Libya’s oil industry, but they encouraged Libya to invest its growing oil wealth with some of the biggest names in finance.

Among the more dramatic chapters in the efforts to attract Libyan money came two years ago, when, according to the Financial Times, Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of the Blackstone Group, and Carlyle’s Rubenstein flew to Tripoli to attend the elaborate wedding of Mustafa Zarti, who was operationally in charge of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund. Rubenstein had first visited Libya back in 2006. Blackstone didn’t return a call seeking comment.

That same year, the Financial Times adds, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son, and the man many saw as a moderating influence on the elder Gaddafi, came to the United States and was feted by Schwarzman with lunch at his 5th Avenue apartment. On that same trip, former Carlyle Chairman and former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci hosted a private dinner for the young Gaddafi, according to the paper. Blackstone has said publicly that Libya has not invested with the company.