Reference ID: 10TRIPOLI79
Created: 1/28/2010 15:14
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
Header: VZCZCXRO0479OO RUEHTRODE RUEHTRO #0079/01 0281514ZNY CCCCC ZZHO R 281514Z JAN 10FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5741INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVERUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVERUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DCRUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DCRHMFISS/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GERHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DCRUEAIIA/CIA WASHDCRUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6295
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000079 SIPDIS STATE FOR NEA/MAG, COMMERCE FOR NATE MASON E.O. 12958: DECL: 1/26/2020 TAGS: CVIS, PREL, ECON, EFIN, ECIN, EINV, EIND, ETRD, ETTC, LY SUBJECT: TECHNOLOGY TO TOURISM: HEAD OF INVESTMENT AUTHORITY DISCUSSES OPPORTUNITIES FOR U.S. BUSINESS IN LIBYA CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary. During a January 20 meeting with the Ambassador, Mohamed Layas, the Head of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund), welcomed the February 20-23 Department of Commerce-led Trade Mission and highlighted ways that U.S. businesses could thrive in Libya, particularly in the tourism and health services sectors. The Ambassador underlined the need for the Libyan government to eliminate the “visa freeze” for official Americans and to improve the visa process for other Americans, including allowing American tourists to enter Libya. Layas asserted that the LIA has USD 32 billion in liquidity, and noted that several American banks are each managing USD 300-500 million of the LIA’s funds. End Summary.
HOW U.S. BUSINESS CAN THRIVE IN LIBYA: TECHNOLOGY TO TOURISM
2.(C) During a January 20 meeting in his prime office-space overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Layas discussed with the Ambassador (accompanied by the FCS officer and P/E chief) the many ways in which U.S. businesses could thrive in Libya, through investment, trade, and joint ventures. He welcomed the February 20-23 Department of Commerce Trade Mission and offered his thoughts on how to make the program a success — “The best thing to do is to meet the right people here. You should have 2-3 ministers address the whole group.” He explained that the LIA was very interested in attracting more U.S. business to Libya and believed the U.S. could play a “major role” in Libya’s development. During a recent visit to Washington, Layas met with a number of American company representatives, as well as the Export-Import Bank (EXIM), to educate them on opportunities to invest in the “unique [Libyan] market,” which according to him, unfortunately includes bureaucratic “red tape and corruption.” Some of the advantages that Layas saw the U.S. having over European competitors for contracts in Libya are the weakness of the dollar compared to the Euro, as well as U.S. access to more advanced technology. Layas believes U.S. companies can expand on their success in Libya’s hydrocarbon market by competing for contracts in the electricity market, health services, and tourism.
3.(C) Layas was particularly interested in importation of advanced U.S. medical technology, outlining plans to create a large medical center in Tripoli. He sees opportunities for U.S. firms to enter into joint ventures with Libyan companies to develop such plans. Additionally, he noted that the LIA plans to manage a large tourism development plan, which will involve USD 1 billion projects in Western Libya, Eastern Libya, the Green Mountains, and potentially another city (most likely Tripoli). Layas believes more than half of Libya’s projected USD 136 billion development plan budget has been committed in contracts, but implied that some companies may back out of those contracts, as they were “reconsidering the conditions.” Layas asked the Ambassador to pass on the message that Libya was still open to development by U.S. companies and that Libya wants to establish “lasting relationships” with major U.S. firms.
IMPROVING BILATERAL RELATIONS THROUGH VISAS
4.(C) The Ambassador attested to the interest of Americans — businesspeople, government officials, and tourists — in coming to Libya, but underlined the obstacles that Americans face when trying to obtain visas. The current “visa freeze” for official Americans was only the latest in a number of difficulties that Americans faced. The Ambassador highlighted the imbalance in our governments’ approaches to the relationship — whereas the Embassy provided full consular services and had issued over 3,000 visas to Libyans since opening in April 2009, U.S. tourists still could not visit Libya. The situation is affecting Embassy operations, including planning for the Trade Mission, and needs to be addressed. Layas sympathetically commented that he had also faced problems recently in trying to obtain visa approvals for a number of American businessmen that had been invited to visit Libya for business discussions.
LIA’S INVESTMENTS: WEATHERING THE STORM
5.(C) The Ambassador stressed the U.S. commitment to the bilateral relationship, including in trade and investment. He inquired about the state of the Libyan economy and the LIA’s wealth in particular, given fallen oil prices and the recent world economic crisis. Layas informed the Ambassador that Libya had “weathered the storm” of the economic crisis. He noted that the LIA operated with “high liquidity,” and therefore was not concerned about the volatility of the oil market. “We have USD TRIPOLI 00000079 002 OF 002 32 billion in liquidity,” he stated, “mostly in bank deposits that will give us good long-term returns.” He explained that several American banks are each managing USD 300-500 million of LIA’s funds, and opined that the LIA was entangled in a legal disagreement with Lehman Brother’s due to a major investment that was “mismanaged.” He said that the LIA has an office in London and preferred doing business there rather than in the United States, due to the “ease of doing business” in the UK and relatively “uncomplicated tax system.” He noted that the LIA’s primary investments are in London, in banking and residential and commercial real estate.
6.(C) Layas denied press reports that the LIA had invested USD 100 million with the infamous Allen Stanford. He said that he had personally written a letter to the “Financial Times” disputing the information, explaining that Stanford had approached the LIA in the middle of his crisis, offering a 7-8% share in his investment scheme, but Layas had refused. Layas also mentioned having been previously approached by Bernard Madoff about an investment opportunity, “but we did not accept.” On the contrary, LIA’s recent purchase of the Canadian Verenex oil company — after much controversy over the manner in which it was purchased and share price — was considered by Layas a “good deal.” LIA plans to operate Verenex jointly with the Libyan Investment and Development Corporation (LIDCO).
7.(C) Comment: The LIA controls at least seven subsidiary organizations, and a fund that holds USD 32 billion in liquid assets. The fact that Layas weathered his own storm — LIA’s controversial, reported entanglement with Allen Stanford — in a regime that has proven to be unforgiving in the face of embarrassment, is surprising, and indicative of his strong ties to powerful protectors within the Libyan regime. End comment. CRETZ