The country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, nationalized his family’s businesses in the 1970s and Tatanaki spent years abroad, but by the early 1990s he had managed to return and establish himself in the oil sector. From then on, he funded lobbying efforts that helped promote Gaddafi’s government in the United States, including when Libya was under international sanctions.
After an armed rebellion broke out against Gaddafi in 2011, Tatanaki switched gears and supported the uprising. During the civil war that followed, he backed a renegade general who fought against the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli and founded a stridently anti-Islamist television channel. Now he has switched gears once again, running for president himself on a secularist platform of bolstering Libya’s battered state institutions.
His winding career has also been marked by controversy and corruption accusations. In the early 2000s, a company he was involved with was accused of cutting sweetheart deals that would have allegedly shortchanged public treasuries in Jordan and Venezuela. In Libya, post-Gaddafi authorities briefly placed him on the Interpol wanted list.
Along the way, Tatanaki also held at least eight accounts at Credit Suisse, stretching back as far as 1988. The largest of these accounts was worth 530 million Swiss francs — half a billion U.S. dollars — at its peak in 2010, just a year before the Libyan uprising, leaked banking data from the Suisse Secrets investigation shows. At least two accounts remained open well into the last decade.
Speaking to OCCRP, Tatanaki denied any suggestion of wrongdoing and said he was an ordinary businessman who had sometimes been misrepresented or attacked in bad faith. He said he had not personally supported Gaddafi or the rebel general, Khalifa Heftar, and that his lobbying and post-uprising activities only aimed to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people. OCCRP has no evidence he has broken any laws.
Tatanaki acknowledged he had banked at Credit Suisse, but said he had no knowledge of the 530-million-franc account.
“I never had any account of that nature,” he said.
But Tatanaki’s inclusion as a major Credit Suisse customer during the years he was linked in media reports to a sanctioned regime and multiple controversies fits a broader pattern in the Suisse Secrets data, which included numerous clients with high-risk association. Over decades, dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors with outsized wealth were able to stash their wealth at the bank.