Libyan exile plan for UK's frozen assets

Aldo Habib: lost property

Aldo Habib: lost property

Aldo Habib has not seen the country of his birth since 1967, when his family left Libya in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.

But now he thinks that the British government should consider using some of the £1 billion of frozen assets belonging to the Gaddafi family in this country to compensate Libyan Jews for what they lost.

Mr Habib's own family left behind properties worth millions when they were forced to flee as mobs roamed the streets, killing Jews and looting businesses.

His mother and three sisters escaped to Milan, while he and his British wife, Eveleen, came to London, where he had bought a home three years earlier. "That was my lucky deal," he said.

His father had been the president of the Jewish community and was "quite influential in the country".

As well as owning a successful import and export business, his father was also a judge in Tripoli. The family owned a 100-hectare farm and helped local farmers to export their produce.

When Colonel Gaddafi, attempting rapprochement with the West, indicated a few years ago that Libya would be open to compensation claims, Mr Habib, now 82, wrote in 2009 to the relevant office in Tripoli. But there has been no response.

"The assets of my family are probably in the region of £7 million," he said.

Despite the riots of 1967, he entertains positive memories. "The people are nice, they are not anti-Jewish," he said. "I have Arab friends there.

"A school friend of mine I hadn't seen in years came to look me up when he came here a couple of years ago. I try to phone him now, but I can't get through."

Seven years ago, Mr Habib told a conference on restitution for Jews from Arab lands that the time was right "for those who have been deprived of their liberty and their property to be justly compensated". At the same time, he expressed hopes of peace and prosperity for "the Libyan people for whom I have a great regard".

When his father died in 1962, more than 500 people from all nationalities came to the funeral. But life changed after 1967.

"My father's grave does not exist," he said. "They built two skyscrapers on top of the Jewish cemetery."

    Last updated: 12:52pm, March 10 2011