By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Subsidiaries of Libya's sovereign wealth fund are no longer subject to a freeze on their assets abroad under an informal easing of U.N. sanctions targeting the regime of late leader Muammar Gaddafi, a U.N. panel of experts said on Thursday.
The U.N. Security Council's financial sanctions had frozen $170 billion in Libyan assets, but a large sum was released in December when the council lifted the sanctions on the central bank's $100 billion, mostly cash assets.
"Subsidiaries (of the Libyan Investment Authority) are no longer covered by the asset freeze," a member of the U.N. panel of experts on Libya advising the U.N. sanctions committee told a discussion at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
He later told Reuters: "Any state asking us is being told these subsidiaries are no longer listed. It is not a formal delisting."
The LIA, which manages most of the oil wealth accumulated under Gaddafi, has faced some difficulties running its subsidiaries because of the sanctions.
Five experts on the 8-member panel took part in the event, speaking on condition of not being quoted by name ahead of their final report to be issued on March 16.
The team, who travelled to 17 countries including Libya five times during the past eight months, studied the financial assets and properties held by Gaddafi, his family and associates.
The experts also examined weapon stockpiles in the country and arms flows since the eight-month conflict that ousted him.
MAJOR INVESTMENTS IN AFRICA
The Libyan Investment Authority, which has nearly $65 billion in assets, owns stakes in Italian bank Unicredit, British publisher Pearson, and Italy's' Juventus Football Club.
Libya made major investments in Africa during Gaddafi's rule, some of them managed by the LIA through a $5 billion fund known as the Libyan African Investment Portfolio.
One of these investments, worth nearly $1 billion, was in the LAP Green Network, which operates in six African countries.
Its chairman Wafik Shater said on November 30 that it had sought the expertise of an international lawyer to lift U.N. sanctions as it was in default with some creditors and its assets were frozen in some countries including Zambia.
In January, Zambia dissolved the board of Libya-controlled Zamtel and appointed a new acting CEO, a day after it announced plans to seize 75 percent in the fixed-line operator from owner LAP Green.
Libya will do all it can to protect its 75 percent in Zamtel, Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said on January 30.
Financial experts appointed by the National Transitional Council are currently reviewing the LIA's investments.
The sanctions regime was "never intended as punishment of the Libyans or to prevent trade," the U.N. panel member said.
"It was aimed at preventing Gaddafi and his family and associates from using financial assets and property both in Libya and overseas to fund repression against their own people."
In general, authorities worldwide moved quickly to ensure that assets were identified as soon as possible and accounts frozen so that the funds would not be accessible, he added.
"The previous regime is no longer in charge. So some people would ask why is everything not delisted? There are a number of issues. There are good contacts with a number of institutions and they want to make sure everything will run smoothly when the money comes back," he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Maria Golovnina)