Ex Gadhafi minister found dead in Danube

By Fidan Aliyeva in Vienna

One of toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s top official’s has been discovered dead floating in the river Danube.

Shukri Ghanem, 69, who was Libyan prime minister between 2003 and 2006, was dressed normally when he left his home on Sunday morning and was found dead in the Danube at 6:40am the same day, according to Austrian police spokesman Roman Hahslinger.

He said: “There is no suspicion at all of foul play at this stage. The corpse exhibited no signs of violence.

“There would be no signs of violence if someone pushed him in, but it’s also possible that he became ill and fell into the water.”

There was speculation that Mr Ghanem, 69, had died of a heart attack, but police declined to comment until after the autopsy.

Mr Ghanem was dressed normally when found in the river but had no personal identification other than a document that named the company he was working for, Mr Hahslinger said. An employee of the Vienna-based company was subsequently contacted and identified him.

An autopsy is due to be performed to determine the cause of death.

The former energy chief fled from Libya to Italy several months after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi had risen up against the Libyan leader last year.

At the time he told the Italian Ansa news service that he deserted for Italy ‘to fight for a democratic country.’

As chairman of the Libya state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) since 2006, he had helped to steer the country’s oil policy and held the high-profile job of representing Libya at OPEC meetings and regularly visited Vienna for meetings in that role.

He was believed to have been living in Europe in exile since he left Libya but was still closely associated with Gaddafi’s rule by Libya’s new leaders and had ruled out returning home.

Mr Hahslinger said Mr Ghanem apparently left his Vienna home in the early morning after spending Saturday evening at home with an acquaintance.

Police were alerted by a passer-by who saw his body floating near his home, close to the modernistic building housing United Nations agencies in the Austrian capital.

Considered a member of Gaddafi’s inner circle until his defection, Mr Ghanem insisted that Libya bore no responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

He also repudiated Libyan responsibility in the 1984 shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher during a protest in front of his country’s embassy – an incident that led to the severing of British-Libyan relations.

Mr Ghanem’s efforts were supported by Saif al-Islam, the Gaddafi son associated with the reform wing.

At the same time, he was viewed with suspicion by the old guard opposed to change – and their opposition to him led to his ousting as prime minister and subsequent appointment as head of the state oil company and de-facto oil minister.

He was reinstated in those positions in 2009 just weeks after his resignation, a move reflecting the power struggle between reformists and nationalists in his oil-rich North African nation.

Mr Ghanem continued to live in Vienna after Gaddafi was ousted and later killed last year in the Nato-backed rebel campaign.