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Canadian firms on hunting mission for Libyan assets

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi addresses African parliamentarians during a meeting in Tripoli on September 9, 2009.

Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images/Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian banks began "scrubbing their databases" over the weekend to track down and freeze Libyan assets in Canada that just last week were considered legitimate business investments.

"They would have been given a heads-up this is coming," said Garry Clement, co-chairman of the Canadian Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. "We're talking millions."

The scope of the hunt is daunting. Once Ottawa authorized the asset freeze, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre notified as many as 300,000 Canadian businesses - not just the large banks but everyone from licensed real-estate brokers to foreign-currency bureaus at airports.

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However, the real challenge will be not just to track any personal accounts or investments belonging to Moammar Gadhafi and his associates, but to check on Libyan companies that are basically fronts for what was, up until recently, a regime tightly run by one man and his cronies.

Canadian financial institutions are supposed to check who the real "beneficial owners" are behind operations such as the Libyan Investment Authority, which had a reported $70-billion spread around the world.

"Every bank in the world knows there is corruption and terrorism directly related to Gadhafi and the Libyan government," said Ted Greenberg, the former chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's money-laundering section and the author of a recent World Bank report on stolen-asset recovery.

"They should be asking questions," he said. "Why are you here and why do you want to put money in my bank?"

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