The Associated Press March 4, 2011, 4:45PM ET

Italy warns of issues if Libya pulls investments

Italy warned Friday that the unrest in the Arab world could result in a "destabilizing" dismantling of their sovereign fund investments in the West.

Treasury Minister Giulio Tremonti didn't specify Libya or its sovereign wealth funds by name in comments to a conference in Istanbul. But Italy has a lot to lose if the Libyan Investment Authority were to be shuffled amid the escalating fighting.

The fund has stakes in major Italian companies like Unicredit bank, Juventus football club and engineering firm Finmeccanica. In Unicredit alone, the Libyan Investment Authority has a 2.6 percent stake on top of the nearly 5 percent stake held by the Libyan Central Bank.

According to state-run RAI television, Tremonti rhetorically asked what would happen if revolutionary forces in North Africa said: "These funds are ours and we want them back."

"Think of the destabilizing effects," Tremonti was quoted as saying.

Libya's sovereign wealth fund is worth about $70 billion thanks to the country's oil and gas wealth. But much of that money is controlled by Moammar Gadhafi and his family, who are believed to have investments throughout Europe, including in Italy, Britain and the Netherlands.

The U.N. Security Council on Sunday imposed an asset freeze on Gadhafi, his family and top associates.

Tremonti said Italy was applying "exactly" the U.N. and EU sanctions, but he didn't elaborate and Italy has not announced any freezing of Libyan assets. Several calls to the Treasury Ministry went unreturned Friday.

So far, the U.S. has said its asset freeze netted $30 billion, Canada said it had frozen 2.3 billion Canadian dollars ($2.4 billion), and Britain an undeclared amount. Switzerland ordered a freeze, but its unclear if Gadhafi, his family or senior Libyan officials have any assets in Switzerland anymore. Libya withdrew almost $6 billion from Swiss banks in 2008 after the two countries became embroiled in a spat over the arrest of Gadhafi's son Hannibal in a Geneva hotel.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, one of the Libyan leader's sons and a top adviser, has said it was a "joke" to think that the family had assets stashed in Europe, saying the Gadhafis lived modestly.


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