Belgium’s Prince Laurent — the younger brother of King Philippe — has been accused of fraud and extortion by Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, lawyers from the Libyan Investment Authority said Friday.
The move is the latest step in a yearslong dispute between the Libyan authority and the brother of the king over disputed compensation from a failed reforestation project run through his NGO Global Sustainable Development Trust (GSDT) in the North African country in 2008. The project collapsed after the outbreak of civil war in 2011.
The LIA alleges that the prince exerted “unacceptable pressure” in his attempt to obtain nearly €70 million of compensation he says he is owed by the Libyan Ministry for Agriculture. Over the years, Prince Laurent’s legal battle has prompted federal prosecutors to seize billions of euros worth of Libyan assets and sparked a parliamentary inquiry into the interest payouts.
Law firm Jus Cogens, which represents the LIA, said it filed a civil suit on Thursday, which, according to Belgian law, makes it mandatory for an investigating magistrate to open a judicial investigation.
“It’s pathetic,” Laurent Arnauts, Prince Laurent’s lawyer, said in a statement. “The Libyan dignitaries are trying to save face because they’ve just lost a 13th time before the Belgian courts and in Luxembourg.
“It’s normal for a creditor to try to enforce a court decision in his favor — it’s not extortion. Try telling your energy supplier otherwise,” he added, in reference to a 2011 court decision ordering Libya to pay the prince €38,479,041 in damages for wrongful breach of a reforestation contract.
The LIA and its lawyers claim they have evidence showing that the prince allegedly tried to obtain the money by claiming he could drastically influence the course of an ongoing investigation that has led to the seizure of €15 billion from the LIA’s bank accounts in Belgium and the issuance of an arrest warrant against the its CEO, Ali Mohammed Hassan.
The LIA was established in August 2006 and claims it is independent of the Libyan state. The United Nations Security Council Committee, however, has ordered the freezing of all funds owned or controlled by Muammar Gaddafi, which included the LIA.
“We have been left with no option but to launch a criminal case against Prince Laurent. We have communicated factual elements to the investigative judge showing, according to us, that Prince Laurent abused his status as a public office-holder, claiming he could influence the criminal procedure against LIA and his CEO,” LIA’s lawyer Christophe Marchand said in a statement.
In Belgium, influence-trading can be punished by a prison sentence of six months to four years and a fine of up to €10,000; fraud can result in a prison sentence of one month to five years and a fine of up to €3,000; and extortion can be punished with five to ten years in jail.