VARIOUS: WikiLeaks cables show Coca Cola bottling plant in Libya at heart of Muammar Gaddafi family dispute
- Title: VARIOUS: WikiLeaks cables show Coca Cola bottling plant in Libya at heart of Muammar Gaddafi family dispute
- Date: 3rd March 2011
- Summary: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (APRIL 21, 2009) (STATE DEPARTMENT TV) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON WELCOMING MUTASSIM GADDAFI TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT AND EXCHANGING PLEASANTRIES
- Reuters ID: LVA8VO6IRMXDTB6ZPL59OEM0VXXJ
- Location: Usa, Libya
- Country: USA
- Duration: 00:00:12
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: International Relations,Industry
- Story Text: As violence deepens in Libya between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and the anti-government insurgents, classified U.S. cables from WikiLeaks show that the Gaddafi family itself has been at times locked in its own warfare.
A fraternal dispute between two of Gaddafi's sons over control of a local Coca-Cola bottling plant escalated into armed confrontation which a classified diplomatic cable described as resembling a Hollywood gangster film.
"You know the movie 'The Godfather'? We've been living it for the last few months," a businessman involved in the dispute told an official from the U.S. diplomatic mission in Tripoli, according to a 2006 State Department cable obtained by the WikiLeaks website. The cable, stamped "Confidential," was made available to Reuters by a third party.
According to the cable, which was obtained by Reuters but has not been made public by WikiLeaks itself, the Coca Cola bottling plant in Tripoli was shut down in December 2005 for three months after it was seized by troops loyal to Mutassim Gaddafi, a son of Muammar Gaddafi, who was feuding with his brother, Mohammed.
Eventually, the American diplomatic mission in Tripoli, known at the time as the U.S. Liaison Office, protested to the Libyan government. Shortly afterward, the cable says, Mutassim's men left the Coca Cola plant, resulting in a de-escalation of the family standoff.
The Coca-Cola incident, offers a cautionary tale about the difficultly faced by U.S.-linked foreign companies to set up Libyan operations even after the U.S. and United Nations scaled back sanctions after Muammar Gaddafi abandoned Libya's nuclear weapons program in late 2003.
A spokesman for Coca-Cola acknowledged there was, "some uncertainty" surrounding Coca Cola distribution in Libya during the period described in the cable. The spokesman said the problem was "resolved amicably" by the end of 2006, and since then Coca-Cola had been operating normally in Libya until the onset of the current unrest.
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department declined comment on the diplomatic cable.
In the years when Gaddafi's Libya was isolated by international economic sanctions, Libya's Coca Cola supply consisted of consignments of the beverage bottled at a plant in Tunisia and transported across the border.
After the embargoes eased, a Coke bottling plant was established in Tripoli. It was co-owned by what the cable describes as a United Kingdom company called Ka'Mur -- whose name was a reference to two embargo-era Libyan soft-drinks -- and by the Libyan Olympic Committee, headed by Mohammed Gaddafi.
Immediately after this joint venture was established, the embargo-era Libyan distributor sued the group which was going to open the bottling plant, alleging breach of contract. A complaint was also sent to Coca Cola International alleging that the bottling plant operators had "stolen the franchise" from the previous distributors, according to the cable. The bottling plant operators counter-sued.
Then, on December 28, 2005, "two military cars carrying armed personnel without clear identification illegally broke into the facility, asked the employees to leave the premises and shut down the plant," according an account of the incident recounted in the diplomatic cables by a U.S. businessman.
The U.S. mission in Libya learned from other sources that the troops were loyal to Mutassim Gaddafi, who, after the Coca-Cola dispute was resolved, was named Libya's national security advisor.
According to the cable, at the time the Coca Cola bottling plant opened, Mutassim bore a grudge against his brother Mohammed because Mohammed allegedly had "taken over" the embargo-era domestic soft-drink business at a time when Mutassim had been exiled to Egypt for an act of "insubordination" in the late 1990s against their father.
In the following weeks, according to the State Department account, anonymous callers threatened three Coca-Cola employees, all Jordanian citizens, with "political problems" and bodily harm. Complaints to police, and, later to Muammar Gaddafi himself, were met with indifference. The Libyan leader, according to the cable, "declined to get involved personally" yet urged plant owners to do "everything within (their) power to resolve the matter according to Libyan law."
Then, shortly before the plant re-opened, what the cable describes as a "dramatic incident" occurred, in which some of Mutassim's men "abducted and assaulted" one of Mohammed Gaddafi's in-laws to "send a signal" to Mohammed.
According to the cable, one of Mohammed's associates, after hearing Mutassim "raging," phoned one the bottling plant's founder warning him to "leave the city immediately" because Mutassim's men were coming to get him.
That night, a posse of Mutassim's associates turned up outside his brother's home and began shouting for Mohammed Gaddafi to come outside. When they got no response, the cable reports, Mutassim's men then grabbed "one of Mohammed's cousins," who they proceded to stuff into the trunk of one of their cars. The cable does not report the cousin's ultimate fate.
The bottling plant was back in operation again a few weeks later.
According to the State Department's account, some contacts of U.S. diplomats said that a settlement between Mohammed and Mutassim Gaddafi had been brokered by their sister Aisha, described in other cables as a frequent arbiter of disputes among her fractious siblings. But other embassy contacts said that Mohammed Gaddafi decided on his own to lessen tensions with Mutassim by selling the Olympic committee's shares to a third party.
The State Department cable describes the Coca-Cola conflict as a "case study in the involvement of Qadhafi (sic) family members directly influencing the flow, pace and nature of economic activity. Family members squabble over personal financial interest with little regard to the possible impact on foreign investors or international public opinion."
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