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Libya's oil minister suspends NOC chairman again, in escalating political row

Highlights

Sanalla still working despite suspension, sources say

Minister Oun says Sanalla under investigation for trips

Ministry, NOC battling to control Libya's energy policy

Libyan oil minister Mohamed Oun has suspended the head of the country's state energy company, Mustafa Sanalla, for the second time in as many months, though he continues to work, according to sources in the country, as the political battle between the two sides shows no sign of abating.

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Sanalla is being investigated for financial irregularities at National Oil Corp. and insubordination, accused of not obtaining ministry permission for work trips in Libya and abroad, among other matters, an Oct. 20 decree from the minister said.

Sanalla has responded by saying his work in Libya's eastern region -- controlled by the Libyan National Army, not the UN-recognized government -- was conducted with the knowledge and approval of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and that he would not step down, so that the stability of Libyan oil and gas production and exports continues.

The suspension is the latest episode in a power struggle between Oun and Sanalla over leadership of Libya's energy policy and raises the risks of renewed disruptions to the country's oil flows, as various factions take sides in the dispute.

Oun previously suspended Sanalla in early September, only for Dbeibah to overturn the decision a week later and reinstate the NOC chairman.

The long-running rivalry between the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity and the Benghazi-based LNA for control of the country has also played into the security concerns and worker grievances at key oil ports and fields that have led to blockades, strikes and sabotage.

Oun was appointed by the GNU to lead the ministry in March. National elections planned for Dec. 24 could intensify the political fighting and civil unrest, analysts have said.

Neither the ministry nor NOC responded to requests for comment.

Holder of Africa's largest oil reserves, Libya pumped an eight-year high of 1.19 million b/d in March, according to S&P Global Platts survey of OPEC production, though that has trended slightly downward since, averaging 1.13 million b/d in September.

The ministry has said it aims to hit 1.4 million b/d by December and 1.6 million b/d in 2022, dependent on NOC receiving government funding from the still unpassed national government.

Libya's crude output peaked at about 1.75 million b/d in 2008.