The Holland Bureau: That Sirte rescue mission, one more time…

Was Mabel Wisse-Smit the ‘Swedish woman’ in the Sirte rescue mission’? If not, it still makes a great story, writes Giles Scott- Smith of the Holland Bureau.

Last Sunday and Monday Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal visited Tripoli, making some positive noises about releasing $2bn of frozen Libyan funds (earlier declarations of releasing $3.5bn have so far produced nothing). Dutch involvement in Operation Unified Protector was limited to enforcing the no-fly zone, leaving the serious stuff to others. But last week the most intriguing event in the whole Libyan escapade – the failed Sirte evacuation mission of Sunday 27 February – once more saw the light of day.
A short recap. A representative (who we know as ‘NN’) of infrastructure/engineering giant Royal Haskoning needed to be evacuated. The frigate Hr.Ms.Tromp, stationed just off the coast, sent a helicopter to rescue him. The location chosen was, remarkably, Sirte – home town of Gaddafi himself. The helicopter, which entered Libyan airspace without authorisation, and its three crew were held by pro-Gaddafi forces soon after landing. After plenty of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the crew were released after a week and a half.
On 1 November the Advisory Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services (CTIVD) made public its report on the role of the MIVD and AIVD in the evacuation mission. The results were not very startling. Coordination between the two intelligence services was lacking. The MIVD only informed the AIVD of the situation on 3 March. The AIVD then approached foreign intelligence services without informing the Foreign Ministry. Back in March the big joke had been that Military Intelligence didn’t work on Sunday and so failed to respond to the Tromp’s request for information that afternoon – an accusation that drew a furious response from the MIVD’s supporters. The CTIVD now largely exonerates the MIVD from any failure to respond.
But the CTIVD’s mandate for this report was very narrow – only look at the intelligence services. The decision to go ahead with the mission came from the very top – the Ministerial Core Group for Special Operations (MKSO), consisting of the Minister-President (Mark Rutte), Vice Minister-President (Maxime Verhagen), Minister of Defence (Hans Hillen), and Minister of Foreign Affairs (Uri Rosenthal). Under the MKSO’s responsibility lay “the evacuation of citizens from life-threatening situations.” As former MIVD boss Joop van Reijn said, the service had been unable to respond properly at the time because it had been deliberately excluded from the planning of the operation.
For the whole month of March both media and opposition MPs went after Defence Minister Hans Hillen and the MIVD. 124 parliamentary questions were tabled. Hillen survived, but many remained unconvinced.
Inevitably, the more interesting rumours circulated for a while in the outer reaches of the Dutch blogcloud. The origin seems to have been, who posted a remarkable alternate version of events already on 5 March. Other sites picked it up, but the mainstream media, as far as I am aware, never went near it apart from one or two passing references. Which is a pity – and in itself also says a lot.
It goes something like this. The official story is that the helicopter was sent to pick up a Dutch engineer and a woman with a Swedish passport who had somehow heard about the evacuation. Even though this ’Swedish woman’ was actually interviewed by the Dutch media in late March, this was a put-up job. The woman in Libya was in fact Princess Mabel of Oranje Nassau, Mabel Wisse Smit, wife of Prince Friso, who was in Libya to arrange a mutually acceptable solution for Gaddafi’s economic interests in the Netherlands. Gaddafi held a substantial stake in Fortis-ABN and this needed to be taken care of. The helicopter was not on a rescue mission but a hostage mission – the crew were to remain in Libya until the transaction was secure and Wisse Smit was out of the country – official reports state that the two ‘evacuees’ left the country on 2 March. Why Wisse Smit? A long-time executive in George Soros’s Open Society Institute and closely involved in Balkans affairs, she knew prominent son Saif Gaddafi through the World Economic Forum’s Global Young Leaders network, and was well-connected with both financial and governmental leaders on both sides. The Gaddafi assets were apparently transferred to Ageas, a successor enterprise to Fortis. Gaddafi’s economic interests in the Netherlands went far beyond the $3.5bn of frozen financial assets. There was plenty of private equity interest in the substantial funds available from the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund. Tamoil, the Libyan national oil company, has a base in Riddekerk from where it runs around 160 filling stations in the Netherlands. Verenex Energy, the Libyan oil and gas prospector, is based in the same location. From GeenNieuws came the nice extra detail: Wisse Smit’s Twitter timeline stopped on 24 February and restarted on 2 March, when she claimed to be in Ethiopia.
Elite / Conspiracy nonsense? Or simply a cover-up for a business transaction that almost cost the Defence Minister his job? Nothing more has come out on this that I know of. But the bottom line is that its just about believable. And its a great story.

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