Libya’s attorney general has issued arrest warrants for more than 144 fuel smugglers operating in the western region of the country.
The move was praised by the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC), which issued a statement highlighting the damage the country’s booming trade in illicit fuel is causing to its economy.
“The NOC commends the attorney general’s decision to issue arrest warrants against more than 144 smugglers in western Libya,” it said.
“Smuggling costs the Libyan economy and citizens hundreds of millions. Those who take part in such serious criminal acts are working against the interests of all Libyans and cause suffering in different cities of our beloved country.”
The NOC called for the arrest of every person involved in the illicit smuggling of fuel across Libya, singling out the former leader of the Oil Installation Guards, Ibrahim Al-Jathran, who closed down major oil ports in eastern Libya for years, and is thought to have been involved in the illicit sale of fuel.
It is estimated that the Libyan government has lost out on some $140 billion as result of the regular closure of oil fields and ports and the illegal sale of fuel.
In October last year, prosecutors in Italy suggested there may have been links between the murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and a Libyan illicit fuel-smuggling network.
Discussing the case with the Guardian, Sicilian chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro said he could not rule out the possibility that some of those under investigation on suspicion of being part of the alleged fuel-smuggling ring may have played a part in Caruana Galizia’s execution.
Caruana Galizia’s worked on a number of stories that exposed the illegal trafficking of stolen fuel from Libya to Malta that may have angered some of the suspects thought to have been part of a major smuggling network Zuccaro was investigating.
“NOC identified a group of individuals abusing the current status of political division in Libya by entering into illegal contracts with unknown or unqualified companies,” the NOC said in a statement.
“These individuals, and others associated with them, have offered Libyan crude oil for sale at huge discounts below the official selling price.”
Fears have been raised that Daesh has launched attempts to profit from Libya’s illicit fuel trade, which has grown exponentially as the security situation in the country has deteriorated.
Earlier this month, sources from Libyan National Army told Arabic international newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Daesh elements were thought to be planning attacks on fields in the country’s “oil crescent” area.