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Libya and US investigate suspected gold for cash trade between Venezuela and Haftar: Report

Security officials believe the Libyan eastern commander preferred gold over cash as it was more difficult to track
Haftar's forces had been accused of perpetrating mass killings and torture of opponents (AFP)

Libyan and US authorities have launched an investigation into suspected gold-for-cash trades between Venezuela and Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.  

Security officials from the United States, Europe and Libya told the Wall Street Journal that the Libyan government had been tracking Haftar's private jet, with the help of the United Nations and Washington. 

Haftar's jet was suspected of carrying gold from Venezuela to West Africa, which then went to Europe and the Middle East, according to the officials.

Libya's attorney general opened an investigation into claims that Hafar was trading US dollars for Venezuelan gold. Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha on Thursday said that the investigation was initiated at the request of the attorney general. 

“Venezuela is under US sanctions so we have to open an investigation,” said Bashagha. 

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Libyan and European security officials told the WSJ that Haftar's associates had airlifted dollars to Caracas due to fears that "his accounts could be frozen if he comes under sanctions".

The official noted that Haftar preferred to keep his assets in gold as it is more difficult to track. 

The US State Department said publicly that it had been looking into flight tracking that suggests Haftar's jets had gone to Caracas. 

"We've been tracking those reports on Haftar's trip - alleged trip - to Venezuela," David Schenker, the US State Department's assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said in early June. 

Haftar, who was once a high ranking military official under former ruler Muammar Gaddafi before being exiled to the US, has waged a civil war since 2014 against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Officials told the WSJ that the Venezualan gold had been shipped to vaults in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. 

One instance showed Haftar's jet had travelled on 24 April to Caracas before flying to Switzerland three days later, later landing in the UAE in early May, according to flight tracking from C4ADS, a nonprofit group that gives data-driven analysis on transnational security issues. 

After a string of defeats, Haftar's forces were forced to retreat from the outskirts of Tripoli in early June, capping a sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive against the capital.

Earlier this week, Libyan officials told Middle East Eye that hundreds of bodies and other human remains had been recovered in Tarhuna, an area the GNA recently captured from Haftar's forces.

“These cemeteries include hundreds of bodies including women and children. The government believes those victims have been killed by Haftar's militia,” said a GNA official.

GNA forces also found at least 158 corpses, including the bodies of women and children, in Tarhuna hospital hours after Haftar's forces fled the city, according to GNA officials. They said the bodies appeared to have been executed and also displayed signs of torture.

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