In an explosive development, the expanding controversy over the role of Farhat Omar Bengdara as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Oil Corporation has now moved from the media arena to a formal judicial setting.
Yesterday (18 December) a first hearing was held before the Third Circuit of Tripoli’s Administrative Court of Appeal in a lawsuit that challenges certain actions taken by Bengdara in his capacity as NOC Chairman on the grounds that he is ineligible to hold public office in Libya because he has been a dual citizen of the UAE since 2011.
Beyond its specific facts, this case raises several far-reaching legal questions.
Two laws prohibit non-Libyan citizens from holding any public office
First, the lawsuit argues that Bengdara’s appointment as Chairman of the Board of Directors of NOC by the Council of Ministers in 2022 was illegitimate under the Libyan Nationality Law, which prohibits dual citizenship in general, and the Libyan Labor Relations Law, which prohibits non-Libyan citizens from holding any public office.
Precedent of Ali Tarhouni?
Although it is hard to predict the outcome of this challenge, it should be noted that, in a similar case in 2016, the Tripoli Court of Appeal ruled that Ali Tarhouni was ineligible to serve as Chairman of the Libyan Constitution Drafting Commission because he held dual citizenship with the United States.
Bengdara’s decisions could be found retrospectively null and void?
Second, this case casts serious doubt upon the legal status of the many policies and legal agreements that have been enacted during Bengdara’s term of office. Indeed, if the Tripoli Court finds Bengdara’s appointment to be illegal, then it is possible that these policies and agreements could be retroactively deemed to be null and void, which would have significant impacts on the oil and gas sector – not to mention the overall Libyan economy.
Finally, this legal dispute could push the Libyan Government to crack down on dual nationals who hold public office. If the court finds that Bengdara’s appointment was illegal, then the Government may be forced to take steps to identify and remove from office all dual nationals on a comprehensive basis, in hopes of re-establishing legal certainty and protecting the Libyan state from future liabilities.
The case was adjourned until 1 January 2024.