Lost in transliteration: Banks struggle to freeze Gadhafi assets

With over 100 spellings of the Libyan leader's name, isolating assets proves a challenge

Published April 20, 2011 5:21PM (EDT)

U.S. Treasury officials face a particular difficulty in their effort to freeze assets belonging to Moammar Gadhafi and his allies. That is: they also have to freeze assets linked to Muammar Qaddafi, Mu'ammar Qadhafi, Muammer Qhedaffi and perhaps more than 100 other transliterations of the Libyan leader’s name.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the "huge range of Latin spellings of Arabic names" (Arabic has no transliteration standards) poses a considerable challenge, since official sanction lists provide only a few alternate spellings, but banks allow clients to choose their own Latin transliterations when they open accounts.

"The U.S. Treasury Department offers 12 possible spellings for Moammar Gadhafi, though language experts say there are more than 100 for the family name alone," reports the WSJ, noting that a cottage industry of companies who are able to provide directories of all the Latin variants of Arabic names is stepping in to offer services to U.S. intelligence.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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