VIENNA, May 20 (Reuters) - Austrian officials said on Friday they had no reason to believe Libyan Oil Minister Shokri Ghanem had entered the country even though his name was on a passenger list for a flight that arrived on Thursday.
“There is no information available to us that would indicate that he is here,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal.
The whereabouts of Ghanem, a central figure in the government of Muammar Gaddafi, have been a mystery since Libyan rebels said on Tuesday that he had defected. The government in Tripoli has denied the rebels’ claim.
An Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman said Ghanem’s name showed up on the passenger list for a flight that arrived in Vienna on Thursday morning. Whether he boarded the plane and where the plane had come from could not be confirmed, however.
If Ghanem has a valid Schengen visa, he can travel freely within the Schengen zone of 25 European countries without necessarily being checked and his arrival registered. If he arrived from a non-Schengen country, however, he would be checked even he had such a visa.
“His name was on the passenger list but I can’t say whether he is really in Austria or not,” said the Interior Ministry spokesman, Harald Noschiel. He added the most recent information he had was that Ghanem was in Tunisia.
“The fact is that if he wanted to enter Austria he could do so because there is no reason for us not to let him into the country. He is not on any international list that would block this.”
Libya’s embassy in Vienna said it also had no information.
Ghanem worked at OPEC headquarters in Vienna for eight years until 2001 and two of his daughters live in Austria. The Interior Ministry spokesman declined comment on whether the daughters had Austrian citizenship, citing privacy laws.
Austrian Chamber of Commerce representative to Libya David Bachmann, who knows Ghanem, said on Thursday Vienna would be a logical destination for him given his personal ties to the city.
As head of Libya’s NOC state energy firm and its delegate to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Ghanem is the country’s most important energy official. He is widely respected by people in the industry.
Mustafa Zarti, former deputy head of the Libyan Investment Authority, moved to Vienna in February after breaking with the Libyan government. (Reporting by Michael Shields and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)