Libya frees Russian oil man ahead of Putin talks

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian oil executive detained in Libya since last year has been freed, his employers LUKOIL said on Thursday, hours before Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was due to host the country’s prime minister.

The detention of LUKOIL’s Alexander Tsygankov last November has been described by Russian officials and company managers as a “clear misunderstanding”. But for eight months it has remained an irritant in otherwise rapidly growing bilateral ties.

Tsygankov, who was the head of the Russian oil major’s Libyan office, was freed on Wednesday, Dmitry Dologov, LUKOIL’s spokesman, said.

“He will have some rest and then will start working again,” he said, but did not comment on whether Tsygankov would continue to work in Libya. LUKOIL is Russia’s second largest oil producer.

Putin is due to host his Libyan counterpart al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi for talks in Moscow, which are likely to focus on Russian hopes to secure energy contracts and a planned pipeline to take Libyan gas to Europe.

At the time of his arrest, Russian media quoted Moscow officials as saying Tsygankov was detained over an alleged leak of information linked to the tender for gas exploration rights, in which more than 30 foreign firms were participating.

However, he has never been formally charged.

The North African country wants to become a major gas producer. Its industry is under-developed because of years of international sanctions lifted in 2003.

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