EUROPE – A joint venture partner of Aberdeen Asset Management is in dealings with the Gaddafi regime in Libya, it has emerged.

Executives at the Global Group in Malta told IPE that they are in regular contact with Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam with a view to developing commercial relationships.

Global – in which Aberdeen has an 8.93% stake – distributes the fund manager’s products on the Mediterranean island. Aberdeen’s sales and marketing head Gary Marshall is on the board at the Maltese firm, which is headed by tycoon Chris Race.

Since its rapprochement with the international community, which included giving up its weapons of mass destruction programme and moving towards a free-market economy, Libya is no longer regarded as a pariah state. Seif al-Islam has been portrayed as more moderate than his father Colonel Gaddafy.

But the country still has no formal relations with the EU and most independent bodies such as Amnesty International and Transparency International regard it as repressive and corrupt. It was recently classified as “not free” by US human rights group Freedom House.

“Serious problems remain,” says Human Rights Watch, “including the use of violence against detainees, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and the incarceration of political prisoners”.

Aberdeen’s involvement would appear to contradict its own social policy, which declares that it supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “in all of its spheres of influence”. Next month it is planning a roundtable on Socially Responsible Investment.

An Aberdeen spokeswoman said the firm’s shareholding in Global Group global group was to do with its distribution network in Malta. She pointed to the fact that the UK government is seeking to develop trade links with Libya – and that oil firms such as BP and Shell are active in the country.

Aberdeen’s interest in the Global Group – last month it raised its stake from 5.3% – comes as Malta is promoting itself as a gateway to Libya. Prime minister Lawrence Gonzi says Malta is “ideally placed” to access the nascent Libyan market.

Also on the agenda in Malta is pension reform, where Global is lobbying the government as it plans to liberalise the market. Gonzi said new proposals on the matter would be released in the coming days.

At stake could be billions of pounds worth of business, Global’s Race told IPE. Other firms in the frame include Insight Investment, which has a partnership with the Bank of Valletta, and HSBC.