Why is the Fed Bailing Out Qaddafi?

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Barack Obama recently issued an executive order imposing a wave of sanctions against Libya, not only freezing Libyan assets, but barring Americans from having business dealings with Libyan banks.

So raise your hand if you knew that the United States has been extending billions of dollars in aid to Qaddafi and to the Central Bank of Libya, through a Libyan-owned subsidiary bank operating out of Bahrain. And raise your hand if you knew that, just a week or so after Obama’s executive order, the U.S. Treasury Department quietly issued an order exempting this and other Libyan-owned banks to continue operating without sanction.

I came across the curious case of the Arab Banking Corporation, better known as ABC, while researching a story about the results of the audit of the Federal Reserve. That story, which will be coming out in Rolling Stone in two weeks, will examine in detail some of the many lunacies uncovered by Senate investigators amid the recently-released list of bailout and emergency aid recipients – a list that includes many extremely shocking names, from foreign industrial competitors to hedge funds in tax-haven nations to various Wall Street figures of note (and some of their relatives). You will want to see this amazing list when it comes out, so please make sure to check the newsstands in two weeks’ time.

This list became public as a result of an amendment added to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that was sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The amendment forced the Federal Reserve to open its books for the first time and make public the names of those individuals and corporations who received emergency loans and bailout monies during the roughly two year period between the crash of 2008 and the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill.

As Bernie’s staff was going through this list, it found, among other things, some $26 billion in extremely cheap loans (as low as one quarter of one percent!) extended to this ABC bank over a period of years, beginning in December of 2007 and continuing through as recently as February of 2010. The senator sent a letter to Ben Bernanke over the winter demanding more information about this loan (among others) but the response he got was completely unhelpful.

When I first started working on this story, one of Sanders’s aides was careful to point out the ABC loans. Later, I took a closer look at the company and found that it was 59% owned by the Central Bank of Libya, which I found very odd, even by the generally insane standards of the bailout era. Why, I wondered, would the Federal Reserve be giving Muammar Qaddafi $26 billion in near-zero interest loans? Exactly how does that address America’s financial problems? What bailout plan could that possibly be part of?

It gets weirder from there. Sanders’s office subsequently found out that ABC is not only exempt from Obama’s sanctions, it has two functioning branches here in New York City. In a letter he sent yesterday evening to Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency chief John Walsh (the banking regulator with purview over the New York branches), Sanders put it this way:

Why would the U.S. government allow a bank that is predominantly owned by the Central Bank of Libya – an institution on which the U.S. has imposed strict economic sanctions – to operate two banking branches within our own borders?

Neither the Fed nor Treasury so far has offered explanations for these loans; the Treasury has so far only explained why ABC was not subject to sanctions and pointed to the March 4th order when I contacted them.

The ABC loans are just one example of the Fed’s bailout madness. Again, there are 21,000 transactions on the Fed’s list of released names, and “every one of these... is outrageous,” as one Sanders aide put it. You will be shocked, for sure, to find out who else is on that list. We’ll have a lot more on those other loans in the next issue of Rolling Stone.

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