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A former Libyan ambassador to Canada has been arrested in his home country after safeguarding documents pertaining to the billions of dollars the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi stashed in Canadian bank accounts and to a Toronto penthouse owned by his son Saadi Gadhafi.

Fathi Baja, who served as Libya’s top envoy in Canada from 2013 to 2017, divulged to The Globe and Mail earlier this year that he kept the cache of documents after leaving Ottawa because he was worried the money and luxury property could fall into the hands of corrupt officials.

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Fathi Baja, who was the Libyan ambassador to Canada between 2013 and 2017, in Benghazi, Libya, on May 22, 2011.Wissam Saleh/The Canadian Press

Mr. Baja was detained Sunday afternoon by the Internal Security Agency in Benghazi after he refused to turn over the confidential records to Libyan officials, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Globe is not identifying the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, because their safety is at risk.

Separately, the United Nations panel of experts on Libya confirmed The Globe’s previous reporting about Saadi Gadhafi’s secret plan to sell his Toronto penthouse in violation of a global asset freeze. It also disclosed that it is investigating the Turkish government’s involvement with him.

These developments come at a critical time for Libya, which is preparing to hold its first democratic elections since Col. Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011. Tensions were already running high in the North African country after last month’s collapse of two dams, which killed thousands of people.

Mr. Baja’s arrest and the UN panel’s findings are now sparking concerns that warring factions in Libya are attempting to seize the Gadhafi family’s Canadian assets.

This past May, Mr. Baja told The Globe he would only turn over the documents to Libyan authorities after the elections, citing the threat of sanctions evasion. “I cannot give it to anybody else except an elected government – a legal one,” he said in a telephone interview from Benghazi.

After his arrest Sunday, his cellphone was confiscated by security agents on the orders of Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who is in charge of Libya’s eastern forces, the confidential source added. As a result, The Globe could not reach Mr. Baja for comment.

Political activists Siraj Daghman and Tariq Al-Bashari were also detained with Mr. Baja, according to Libyan media reports. The Address newspaper said Mr. Baja was being accused of stealing state documents. Libya Al-Ahrar Channel and the Libya Observer cited his recent interview with The Globe and his comments about the collapse of the Derna dams as possible reasons for his arrest.

At least three political parties in Libya have called for the release of Mr. Baja and his two colleagues, according to the Al-Wasat online newspaper. Their joint statement characterized the arrests as blatant violations of civil rights.

Meanwhile, the UN panel has independently verified that Saadi Gadhafi signed a power of attorney to sell his Toronto penthouse. As The Globe first reported in June, the legal document was registered at the Libyan consulate in Istanbul under Reference No. 75/1 on Nov. 11, 2022.

The panel, which published a redacted version of the power of attorney in a new report, also disclosed that Turkey is being investigated for its role in assisting the younger Mr. Gadhafi. Specifically, the panel learned from subsequent reporting by The Globe that Mr. Gadhafi is living in a villa in Istanbul, receives a monthly allowance from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and freely travels to other countries, including Egypt, according to a second confidential source. (The Globe is not identifying this person because they were not authorized to disclose this information to the media.)

“The Panel now considers that his signature of the power of attorney, containing a legal declaration of residence in Türkiye, provides evidence of noncompliance by Türkiye with the travel ban measure,” the report says.

Turkey had previously denied that Mr. Gadhafi has been residing in Istanbul since his release from a Libyan prison in 2021, the second source added.

“On 27 June 2023, the Panel wrote to Türkiye regarding the implementation of the asset freeze and travel ban measures. No response has been received,” the report adds.

Neither the Turkish nor the Libyan embassies in Ottawa responded to separate requests for comment from The Globe.

For their part, UN panel members also contacted Canadian officials to discuss sanctions enforcement and to find out whether Mr. Gadhafi owns other assets in Canada, the source said.

Global Affairs Canada acknowledged a request for comment but did not reply ahead of publication. And Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, did not reply to The Globe’s inquiries.

On Aug. 8, The Globe also reported that billions of dollars traced to Col. Gadhafi remain in Canadian bank accounts almost 12 years after his death.

The following day, Canada’s ambassador to Libya, Isabelle Savard, met with Mohamad Ramadan Mensli, the director-general of the Libyan Asset Recovery and Management Office, in Tunis to discuss the possible repatriation of those assets, according to a Libyan news release.

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