Austria: Ex-Libya oil chief found dead in Danube

By GEORGE JAHN,Associated Press Updated at 2012-04-29 19:58:52 +0000


VIENNA (AP) — Libya's former oil minister, who last year announced he was abandoning Moammar Gadhafi's regime to support the rebels who ultimately toppled him, was found dead Sunday in a section of the Danube river flowing through Vienna, Austrian police said.

Police spokesman Roman Hahslinger said the corpse of 69-year-old Shukri Ghanem was found floating in the river early in the morning. He said the body showed no external signs of violence.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, Hahslinger said, adding that officials will carry out an autopsy in the coming days.

"There would be no signs of violence if someone pushed him in," Hahslinger said. "But it's also possible that he became ill and fell into the water."

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

Hahslinger said Ghanem apparently left his residence early Sunday morning after spending Saturday evening at home with an acquaintance. Police were alerted by a passerby who saw his body floating near his Vienna residence, close to the modernistic building housing U.N. agencies in the Austrian capital.

Ghanem is a former Libyan premier who last served as his country's oil minister until 2011. He left Libya for Tunisia and then Europe in June as insurgents were pushing to topple Gadhafi, and he subsequently announced he would support the rebels.

Reporters covering the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries remembered Ghanem as a friendly and approachable man who readily gave his cell phone number to selected journalists covering OPEC ministerial meetings and gracefully took even late-evening calls from them.

With advanced degrees in law and economics, Ghanem served in senior positions within the Vienna-based OPEC before his appointment as Libyan prime minister in June 2003 — an office he held until 2006 when he took the oil ministry portfolio.

Considered a member of Gadhafi's inner circle until his defection, he 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 death of British constable Yvonne Fletcher during a protest in front of his country's embassy — an incident that led to the severing of British-Libyan relations.

He continued to live in Vienna after Gadhafi was ousted and later killed last year in the NATO-backed rebel campaign.