The news that Bashir Saleh Bashir, former chief of staff and reputed ‘banker’ to the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, was shot last Friday in Johannesburg has again raised questions about what he is doing in South Africa. Bashir was attacked when he arrived home from OR Tambo International Airport, diplomatic sources say. He survived what appeared to have been a common crime.

Yet government officials haven’t confirmed the incident, apparently because Bashir is officially not in South Africa. He’s in fact been living here for over five years. Bashir fled Tripoli as Gaddafi’s government fell in 2011, going first to Niger and then to France, then coming to South Africa.

He reportedly applied for asylum in South Africa 2012. If so, did he get it? The fact that he is still here suggests so, but that can’t be confirmed because his official status is so murky. It’s also not clear why he’s never been arrested despite Interpol having issued a Red Notice in about 2012 for all countries to apprehend him on charges of fraud and embezzlement in Libya.

All this creates a strong suspicion that the South African government has been protecting Bashir for some reason. Rumours are that Gaddafi stashed loot in South Africa, among other countries, just before the rebels took Tripoli. The supposed amount hidden in South Africa has ranged from US$1 billion to more than US$100 billion. A 2013 media report suggested that about US$1 billion in cash, gold and gems was stored in a warehouse at OR Tambo International Airport.

South Africa’s government must come clean about Bashir and why he is still in this country.