The Maltese millionaire fighting Libya’s corner in Ukraine

The saga of Libya’s missing Antonov airplanes has been getting murkier. Libya owned the world’s largest fleet of Antonov 124s
Since NATO launched its Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, Ukraine’s state-owned Antonov Airlines has been busy trying to get its hands on two Antonov 124 acquired by Libya Air Cargo (LAC) in 2002. The company has pointed out to the Ukrainian authorities that Tripoli owes sizeable debts to the Ukrainian state. But for the moment, one of the aircraft is still on the tarmac at the airport in Zhulyany, south of Kiev, where it is undergoing maintenance. The second plane, which is in Belgium, could be even harder for Antonov Airlines to seize. Along with the Emirati company Maximus Air Cargo, LAC was the only Antonov operator outside the former Soviet Union.

Antonov Airlines already operates seven Antonov 124 and boosting its fleet by another two would help it compete with Russian companies, Volga-Dnepr and ZAO Polet, which have ten and eight aircraft respectively, and with which Antonov Airlines it is engaged in a bitter commercial war. The Antonov 124, which is the biggest transport aircraft in the world, can carry up to 120 tonnes of merchandise, compared with just 81 tonnes, and 25% less volume, for its nearest rival, the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy. Most of the contracts the aircraft have are for the transportation of military equipment.

Antonov Airlines is the descendant of the legendary Soviet company Antonov Design Bureau, which produced the first Antonov 124 in 1982. The bureau where the plane was designed and build were in Kiev, and Antonov ASTC, Antonov Airlines’ parent company, inherited the intellectual property rights. However today the factories where the Antonov 124is build in Ulyanovsk belong to United Aircraft Corporation, which is controlled 80% by the Russian government and has privileged business links with Volga-Dnepr, which is also based in Ulyanovsk.

After the Ukrainians illegally sold off several other Antonov airplanes belonging to the Libyans, the Govt. in Tripoli called upon its friend and trouble shooter, Shiv Shankaran Nair, a reclusive Maltese millionaire and deal maker, to intercede with the Ukrainians. Shiv Nair has a long history with the new regime in Tripoli, having been involved in the Misurata lifeline, run by his partner Peter Sullivan, during the war. Subsequently he was involved in several secret missions on behalf of the new interim government of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, particularly in tracing funds stolen by members of the ancien regime. Recently Nair has also been active in assisting the Libyans in settling their multi billion debt with Russia. His well known links with Putin’s inner circle have been put at the Libyans’ disposal. In Ukraine , we are told that Nair has prevented any further sale of Libyan aircraft by Antonov, and has managed to get the Ukrainian government to step in and grant protection to the AN124 super cargo plane, which the Antonov factory was trying to seize citing unpaid bills