Libya: Saif Gaddafi – the London socialite turned despot
Published 23/08/2011 | 08:08
As the rebellion against his father began in February, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi used Libyan state television to deliver a defiant message to the country and the world.
"We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing," he declared. As for the rebels: "We will eradicate them all."
In a few minutes, the bellicose statement shredded the young Gaddafi's carefully-cultivated image as the moderate, reasonable face of the regime in Tripoli.
The second son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the 39-year-old Mr Gaddafi was often regarded as his father's most likely successor, though he always denied any such ambition.
Long an advocate of better relations with the West, following Libya's decision in 2003 to give up its weapons of mass destruction, Mr Gaddafi sought to close personal ties with Western leaders, especially in Britain.
Operating from a £10 million (€11.4m) house in Hampstead, north London, Mr Gaddafi's charm offensive was remarkably effective: he was once invited to Buckingham Palace by the Duke of York, and last year described Tony Blair as "a personal family friend", although the former Prime Minister insisted he has only met the Libyan once.
He is also close associate of Nat Rothschild, a millionaire hedge fund manager and scion of the banking dynasty.
It was at a Rothschild estate in Corfu in 2009 that Mr Gaddafi controversially met Lord Mandelson, then the Labour Business Secretary, to discuss the return to Libya of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber.
Speaking impeccable English and usually immaculately dressed in a designer suit, Mr Gaddafi's appeal may have been enhanced by his control of near-limitless amounts of money from the Libyan government's oil revenue.
From those funds, he channelled £1.5 million (€1.7m) to the London School of Economics, where in 2002 he began studying for a PhD.
Once feted by the university's leaders as a democrat with "deep liberal values", Mr Gaddafi's hardline response to the rebellion led the college to reconsider. In February, the LSE announced that it was severing its links with him and Howard Davies, its director, resigned.
Mr Gaddafi was also a controversial figure at home. A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks earlier this year suggested that "many Libyans view him as self-aggrandising and too eager to please foreigners."
As the rebels advanced towards Tripoli, Mr Gaddafi appeared to become evermore desperate, abandoning his previous positions.
Having repeatedly claimed to want a secular Libya, Mr Gaddafi, previously clean-shaven, grew a beard and hinted at embracing radical Islam.
Earlier this month he told a US newspaper that the rebellion against his father would lead to Islamists sharing power in Libya."We have to deal with them," he said, "Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?"