Russia denies U.S. claim that Libyan banknotes seized in Malta are counterfeit

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Libyan currency worth over $1 billion which was printed in Moscow and seized by Malta is not counterfeit, Russia's foreign ministry said on Saturday in response to U.S. claims.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday that it "commends" the seizure of $1.1 billion of "counterfeit Libyan currency" by Malta.

The banknotes were printed by Goznak, the Russian state-owned company, and ordered by an "illegitimate parallel entity", the department said, in an apparent reference to Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

"The Central Bank of Libya headquartered in Tripoli is Libya's only legitimate central bank. The influx of counterfeit, Russian-printed Libyan currency in recent years has exacerbated Libya's economic challenges," the State Department statement said.

"This incident once again highlights the need for Russia to cease its malign and destabilizing actions in Libya," it added.

Russia's foreign ministry on Saturday said Libya has two central banks, one in the capital Tripoli and another in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, as the country is de-facto governed by two centers of power.

"So, that's not the dinars which are counterfeit, but America's statements," the ministry said.

It added that Goznak had sent the Libyan banknotes to the central bank's address in Tobruk under the terms of a contract signed in 2015.

In a separate statement, the Russian company said the cargo was seized by customs officials in Malta when it was on its way to Libya in September 2019 in "breach of all norms of the international law".

A parallel central bank in eastern Libya stepped up deliveries of new banknotes from Russia last year, before and after Haftar launched a military offensive to capture Tripoli, according to Russian customs data.

The data obtained by Reuters showed nearly 4.5 billion Libyan dinars (more than $3 billion) was dispatched in four shipments between February and June 2019.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Mike Harrison)


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