VIENNA, May 4 (Reuters) - Austria has frozen around 1.2 billion euros ($1.78 billion) in funds that authorities think could be linked to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, a top central bank official told Reuters.
Austrian National Bank Governor Ewald Nowotny had cited that figure in February as the overall amount of Libyan assets in the Austrian financial system, but officials had not previously confirmed how much of it was actually blocked.
“The amount that has been frozen is in the order of magnitude of the figure mentioned by the governor,” Austrian National Bank Director Andreas Ittner said on the sidelines of a central bank news conference on Wednesday.
He did not give any details about the funds’ owners.
The Alpine country ordered a freeze on any money linked to Gaddafi in March, putting 27 people on a watch-list including a former top Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) official.
The European Union has followed suit.
People close to the situation have told Reuters a large part of the funds belonged to Libya’s central bank and were on deposit at commercial banks in Austria.
The freeze also blocked the domestic accounts of Mustafa Zarti, an Austrian national and former deputy chairman of the LIA, who has denied media reports portraying him as Gaddafi’s money man and has sued to reverse the freeze.
Nowotny has described the hunt for Gaddafi money as “painstaking police work” that could take years before the final sum is revealed.
Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam studied in Vienna. He and Zarti met in Austria and remain friends, Zarti has said.
In Austria, Saif Gaddafi lived in a villa on the outskirts of Vienna and housed his two white pet tigers in the city’s zoo.
European powers have called on Gaddafi, in power for more than four decades, to stand down after his attempts to suppress anti-government protests that spawned an outright revolt. (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Ron Askew)