In Gaddafi’s rule, if you are too rich and you don’t happen to be Gaddafi himself, that’s a crime too.
In Libya, everyone aspires to be him
”Everyone aspires to be Husni Bey. That’s true. For many, I’m a role model.” Husni Bey ) say so.
It was one day in November 2011, and Bai Yi was on his way to the office early. “Maybe they don’t like me or even hate me, but when you ask them who they want to be, their answer is Hosni Baie. It’s not vanity, they say that all the time.”
Baie drives Like speaking, it is quick and easy, sometimes unexpected.
As chairman of HB Group, Bai considers his company to be the largest privately held company in Libya. HB Group holds shares in 32 companies and employs 1,500 people in almost every industry. Essentially, HB Group is an importer, with exclusive distribution rights in Libya for many well-known foreign brands, such as Procter & Gamble, Aldo, Abbott and Sony.
If food or personal care products are intended to enter the Libyan market, they will most likely have to go through the HB Group. These include Pringles, Crest, Red Bull, Baker, Ferrero Chocolate and Nutella. HB Group has 480 distributors under its name. Foreign companies decide to export goods to Libya, and HB Group provides logistics support, customs clearance, local warehousing, and even takes care of small advertisements in stores.
Bai Yi is full of confidence in his gestures, and he has the appearance of a successful person. His brown skin and round face make him look nothing like sixty or two. He looks stylish but understated: his silver curls are habitually brushed back, and he wears a flat-pressed striped shirt with the top button seemingly inadvertently open, like he’s just returned from a vacation on a yacht.
But these days, Bai Yi’s business is not busy. Banks are largely closed, and the flow of goods is rather slow. For Libya in transition, important questions include not only what role people like Baiyi will play in the new government, but also what role they played in the Gaddafi era: Now that he presents himself as an enemy of the Gaddafi regime, he How can Gaddafi be in power for 40 years, single-handedly build Libya’s largest private enterprise empire? As Mohammad Diab said, “Everyone is involved with the Gaddafi government. To develop a business, you have to have the support of those in power.”
Baie doesn’t care about these doubts. “Frankly, I don’t care,” he said. “If I care what every Libyan says, then I’ll be swayed by their opinions and get nowhere.” In Baie’s view, this is just a country going through a revolution, The problem of moving from a dictatorship into an unknown future. Like everyone else, Baiyi may contribute as much or more to Libya’s integration into the world’s stable economic system, but before that, he must explain his own history.
Excessive wealth is also a
crime . Baie is the eldest of 10 children in his family. In 1944, father Ibrahim Hosni Bai founded the predecessor company of HB Group. Baie attended the Savona Nautical School in Italy and returned to Libya in 1970 to join the family business in eastern Benghazi. In 1975, Baie Sr. asked his son if he would move to Tripoli to take over Libtra. This is a declining shipping and logistics company acquired by the old Baie. Baie seized the opportunity.
In 1978, just as Libtra was turning a profit, the Gaddafi regime began to implement liberal nationalization reforms that encouraged workers to take over the company.
”The first people who broke in that morning were people with revolutionary ideas or support for the Gaddafi regime. They said to me: ‘Thank you very much, you have no place here.'” Baie recalled. Overnight, the Bai family became nothing. His younger siblings were forced to leave their homes, wandering around Lebanon, Italy, Switzerland and West Africa. Baiy stayed in Libya, acting as an agent for a global shipping insurance company, coordinating with all family members.
In 1986, the Gaddafi regime loosened its grip on private business, and the Bai family took the opportunity to make a comeback. Ten years later, the Baie family’s business has grown in size. On a sultry Thursday night in the summer of 1996, Baie said he heard a car slam in front of his house, followed by a slamming door, and his German shepherd began to bark.
”We’re looking for Hosni Bai.” A man’s voice sounded. The people who came were from the “Cleansing Committee”. Bai was taken to the Tadjoura barracks, where he was held in the same cell as the other four. He was severely beaten for the first time two days later, with bruises on his thighs and body. In front of him were twisted cables, and in his ears echoed the loud roar of the interrogator pressing for political activity. Bai said he was held for four months before being sent to the prosecutor’s office. Bai Yi finally breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the prosecutor sitting at his desk. He thought that he was finally able to get out of the sea of misery. Prosecutors, however, turned a deaf ear to Baie’s allegations of inhumane treatment in prison. Finally, the prosecutor said to him, “Mr. Hosni, I accuse you of being overly rich.”
Under Gaddafi’s rule, if you were too rich and you didn’t happen to be Gaddafi, that was a crime.
In April 1997, Baie finally got out of prison, but was barred from leaving Tripoli. Two years later, Baie was acquitted. The government’s claims continued for five years until the High Court dropped all charges in 2001. Nevertheless, the Gaddafi regime once again froze all the assets of the Bai family.
Although Baie’s personal assets are frozen, the HB Group continues to grow because the companies controlled by the group are managed by others or jointly owned by multiple shareholders. In July 2007, the Libyan Trade Association televised a meeting involving government officials. Baie sat on the stage as the vice-president of the association. When discussing the issue of attracting foreign investment through tourism, Bai Yi was a little out of control at the time, and even specifically named and criticized the Prime Minister. Two weeks later, Baie was jailed again, this time for tax evasion. About a week later, Baie was acquitted again — because he believed the government didn’t want to scare off foreign investors. But then Baie suffered other forms of retaliation. The government spreads rumours that he is a Zionist, confuses him with a lot of paperwork, and keeps changing rules to prevent his company from importing goods.
Al Said al-Dhaim, president of the Libyan National Real Estate Investment and Construction Company, remembers Baiyi’s attack on Prime Minister al-Baghdadi on television. “But after that, Baiyi immediately started to make amends and made a special apology.” De Haim recalled, “He also started to do business with Gaddafi’s son Saif.” But he did not Baiy’s approach was not criticized. “In those days, sometimes you had no choice but to deal with them.” Mahin Ramadan, a senior adviser to the National Transitional Council’s finance minister during the Libyan civil war, revealed that many businessmen were duplicitous during the civil war. ”It was like hedging bets
. Gaddafi held on for six months. Even if they cooperated with him, you can’t blame them.”
In front of a solid wood table. On the table is a group photo of his three children as children, and Baie opens his Sony black ultra-thin notebook to receive a letter from a banker friend. The letter read: “If you want to know the whereabouts of Gaddafi, ask Hosni Baie.” (Gaddafi had fled Tripoli at the time, and his whereabouts are unknown.)
Baie told us that people have been calling him for years . For the “collaborator”, but few people call him face to face. “I don’t care,” he repeated. “I can’t try to debunk the rumor all day. I’ll just laugh it off and look at it from a different angle.”
Confidential cables from the U.S. embassy seemed to support Baie’s denial. In June 2008, WikiLeaks disclosed a confidential cable from Tripoli, which read: “His huge personal fortune, great public image, and dominance in the Libyan consumer goods industry have angered the regime and the State-owned enterprises.” In other classified cables, embassy personnel were concerned that the Libyan prime minister’s retaliation against Baiyi could spark violence.
After the outbreak of civil unrest in Libya. Bai went into hiding with friends, fearful of being arrested as the Gaddafi regime hunted for opposition supporters in Tripoli. As of the end of March 2011, Gaddafi fighters had searched for Bai Yi six times in the middle of the night, but each search operation was unsuccessful. Bai Yi believed that the patron saint was protecting him.
Baie said he wants to make sure the company’s imported food and health products don’t go off the shelves. Soldiers on the Eastern Front ate the same tuna and cheese he provided. Baie said he responded positively to every call to donate. He distributed infant formula to the trapped city of Misrata. When the phone lines were cut, Bai relied on a personal satellite communication device connected to the office network to coordinate the supply of goods with his brother in Benghazi. “If they had known, we would have been shot. They would have shot me in the head,” Baie said.
Baiy said that when Libya’s banking system was frozen due to the United Nations ban, many foreign suppliers were still shipping goods on credit to Baiy, including the American health care products company Abbott, and the French infant milk powder and health care products suppliers. Nutricia, and Procter & Gamble.
”Typically, our warehouse inventory lasts at least three months,” Bai said. However, some warehouses were destroyed during the war, some warehouses were robbed of their goods, and some warehouses were directly burned to rubble. To this day, Baie isn’t sure how bad his loss is.
For now, most of Baie’s business is at a standstill. The doors of tuna, juice and cheese factories were closed, and construction companies and tourism agencies were completely shut down. The National Transitional Council has been slow to return the Libyan government’s foreign assets, although some have been unfrozen. Baiyi is deeply concerned about this, and he wants the transitional council to return large sums of deposits from international banks to Libya. The government’s inaction so far has irritated Baie.
”We can’t do anything if money is not injected into the market as soon as possible.”
Baie likes to tell the story of ants and crickets. The Bai family are ants. “We work hard to store food in the summer, and we don’t sing cheerfully, so we don’t starve in the winter. This story drives us to the present.” As for the rumors, Bai Yi’s attitude is very firm: “If I am a traitor, Why do they all want to be me again?”
In Gaddafi’s rule, if you are too rich and you don’t happen to be Gaddafi himself, that’s a crime too.