A European Union decision to extend sanctions imposed on Libya is likely to force the Italian government to freeze Libyan assets, including the Gadaffi regime’s stake in soccer club Juventus FC.
The expanded sanctions would include Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, the $70 billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), and its subsidiaries, which are with a 7.5 percent stake in Juventus, the club’s second largest shareholders after the Agnelli family, owners of Fiat.
The expanded sanctions are set to take effect at midday on Tuesday Central European Time (CET) provided no EU member state raises objections.
It was not immediately clear whether Italy would resist the expansion, which would leave it no choice but to implement the sanctions. Italy was a prime Libyan investment target and the government has so far been reluctant to cut its economic ties to the North African country that involve interests in oil, finance and other key economic sectors.
Juventus officials privately believe that a freeze on Libyan assets would help them escape further embarrassment over their association with embattled Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadaffi and his family.
Italy based its refusal so far to freeze Libyan assets on the fact that Libyan entities holding stakes in Italian companies that beyond Juventus also include a 7.5 percent stake in Unicredit, Italy’s largest bank which owns AC Roma because they were not included in the EU assets freeze list.
That argument would no longer be valid if the expanded sanctions are adopted on Tuesday.
Italian officials said earlier that Italy would freeze Libyan assets only if it was obliged to do so by measures adopted by the EU.
Juventus’ embarrassment is compounded by the fact that its association with the Gadaffis contrasts starkly with its insistence that it seeks to reconcile the "professional and business side of football with its ethical and social role".
James M. Dorsey, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.