domenica 20 novembre 2011

The favoured son feted by the West

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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi at Ali Wraith Secondary School, Tripoli, Libya - 21 Jan 1986 Photo: Sipa Press / Rex Features
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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Vienna, Austria , Dec 1997 Photo: Rex Features
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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi with an American model during the Miss Net World Contest, Tripoli, Libya. 15/11/2002  Photo: Rex Features
Robert Mendick

By Robert Mendick, and Patrick Sawer

9:00PM GMT 19 Nov 2011


Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was his father's favourite son. Until the start of the Libyan revolution, he was also feted by the West, as the arch-moderniser who would supposedly guide the oil and gas rich north African country along the path of democracy.

He was influential in his father's decision to give up weapons of mass destruction that brought Libya in from the cold in 2004 and helped to negotiate the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish jail in 2009.

Saif's extensive contacts included the Duke of York, Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson.

But faced with a rebellion in Benghazi in February that would not die down, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's second son, chose family loyalty over reform; blood ties over peace.

"We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet," he declared in a rambling 40-minute speech, adding: "We will not lose Libya."

With that the Gaddafi regime launched a brutal crackdown against rebels that led to the slaughter of thousands of fellow countrymen.

Overnight, Saif, a bizarre mix of Western playboy, businessman and scholar – albeit with a questionable PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE) – had become a pariah, now facing trial by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Saif al-Islam – meaning sword of Islam – was born in Tripoli on June 25 1972. By then, his father had already been in power three years and would rule for another 39.

Saif was the eldest son of the Libyan leader's second wife Safia and in all, the second of his six sons and two daughters. Three of his brothers – Mutassim, Saif al-Arab and Khamis – are reported to have died in the course of the civil war.

While his brothers became better known for their eccentricities and downright bad behaviour – Saadi Gaddafi, a year younger, tried and failed to become a professional footballer in Italy while Hannibal Gaddafi caused a diplomatic furore by beating servants in a Swiss hotel – Saif gave an outward appearance of moderation and modernity.

Here was someone with whom the West thought they could do business.

He was fluent in English, as well as German, and held a degree in engineering from a Libyan university, a business degree obtained in Austria and finally a doctorate in global governance from the LSE in 2008.

In stark contrast to his father whose appearance in full flowing robes or else military regalia reinforced the world's image of him as a crazed dictator, Saif – with his designer suits and glasses and shaved head – looked like an everyday, European money man.

And while his father preferred doing deals in a Bedouin tent in the desert, Saif appeared more comfortable in luxury hotels or even out pheasant shooting on English country estates.

In 2009, he was a guest of Nat Rothschild, the financier, at his family's home at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. Lord Mandelson, a close friend of Mr Rothschild, also attended although his spokesman at the time was keen to stress he never picked up a gun.

He was also reported to be close to the Duke of York, who is said to have invited him to both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle; it is not known if he accepted the invitations.

Saif owned a £10 million, neo-Georgian house in north London, which had its own swimming pool and sauna and even a suede-lined cinema room.

Incidentally, as the net closed in on the Gaddafis, squatters spotting an opportunity took control of the eight-bedroom house in the spring.

His Libyan home – on Tripoli's outskirts – was an even more lavish affair. He kept two Bengal tigers, called Freddo and Barney, in cages in the grounds. For recreation, he would go hunting in the desert with falcons, a traditional pastime of Arab royalty.

Saif first moved to Europe in about 2000, where he studied for a business and management degree at the International Business School in Vienna.

At that time he befriended Joerg Haider, the Austrian extremist.

By about 2002, he was becoming a regular visitor to London and within a year is said to have fixed up a meeting between the Libyan regime and MI6 that would lead to Libya's public abandonment of its nuclear and chemical weapons programme, paving the way for Tony Blair to embrace Muammar Gaddafi in his Bedouin tent in March 2004 – the now infamous "deal in the desert".

He enrolled at the LSE publishing his thesis in 2008 on global governance. The purpose of his dissertation, he wrote in his introduction, was to analyse "how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions", focusing on the importance of the role of "civil society".

The LSE embraced him, not least because with his studies, the university received a cheque for £1.5 million from a charitable foundation run by Saif.

Sir Howard Davies, the LSE's director, was forced to resign in March this year, a few days after Saif's incendiary 'rivers of blood' speech that ignited the war 1,500 miles away in Libya.

The PhD, it turned out, was a collaborative affair, with research carried out by American lobbying firm Monitor Group.

Mr Blair, who has visited Colonel Gaddafi in Libya at least six times since leaving Downing Street, was among several dignitaries and academics keen to help.

In one letter, written in 2007 but found in the abandoned British embassy in Tripoli in September, Mr Blair addressed him as "Dear Engineer Saif" and went on to gives suggestion that "might help you with your studies".

He was hugely influential in controlling the Libyan Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund with billions of pounds to spend in the UK and elsewhere.

The fund was used as leverage to secure the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Saif and others let it be known that if al-Megrahi died of cancer in a British jail, then all business deals with the UK would be cancelled. Saif was entrusted with accompanying Megrahi back to Tripoli for a hero's welcome .

It wasn't all business for Saif. There was plenty of pleasure too. His favourite restaurant in London was said to be China Tang at the Dorchester Hotel.

That was often followed by drinks at Annabel's nightclub. Some commentators suggested he was less of a future ruler and more an international playboy.

But the photographs taken yesterday of him in captivity – in robes and a beard – are far removed from the urbane image he cultivated during his years as a friend of the West. In the end, he turned out to be very much his father's son.

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