Some twenty years ago, we made a push to secure an oil and gas concession in Libya. We were a bit ahead of the curve as the U.S. prohibited its citizens entering the country unless they were also a citizen of another country. I first went to Libya through another channel without documents, but that approach had a very unsettling conclusion like an exit reminiscent of the movie Argo. Therefore, a second passport was needed so our friend and advisor, Samy, suggested that several of us join him along with many Monaco residents to become citizens of Belize. We did so and Samy then proposed that we needed a strong partner and his friend, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, the second son of the famous Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was the perfect co-venturer in the form of Gaddafi’s charity.
Samy had developed a close relationship with Saif as Samy’s condominium, overlooking the Monaco yacht club, was ground zero for an endless flow of models from Milan. At one point, Samy told me on one of our frequent trips to Tripoli that he was worried that Saif was smitten by a certain model and the displeasure that would create with the Colonel if the relationship led to marriage. In any event, Saif became a frequent visitor to London following the exhibit of his personal paintings there, as well as his relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For some extended period, Blair had maintained a close relationship with Colonel Gaddafi and even following the Libyan Civil war in 2011, Blair stated that he had no regrets of their previous friendship. Well, Samy was most insistent that I meet Saif. Therefore, on very short notice, I was asked to fly to London, sit in the lobby of a hotel for many hours to finally shake hands and have a brief chat with Saif. We ticked that box off and I went back to Texas. At that time, Saif appeared much like the image below. Notice his hands as they will be much different in a subsequent photograph.
Prior to our inclusion of Gaddafi’s charity in our venture group as well as the Libyan National Oil Company and the Russian monolith, Gazprom, I had met with the head of the national oil company in Tripoli and made two presentations. After our expanded group became known in Libyan circles, I was invited back to make the same presentation to the same guy. I told him he had heard it all before and he replied, “The third time is charm.” Therefore, we believed our group was bulletproof though we were subsequently advised in a Geneva hotel by a representative of the national oil company that the bid round results for oil licenses would be announced in a ballroom setting. Therefore, all awards would be based solely on the “profit oil” percentage granted to the Libyan National Oil Company. As our political competitive advantage had gone up in smoke, I turned to the KGB Colonel representative of Gazprom and said we had wasted a lot of time. We eventually backed out given what became uneconomic contract terms though Gazprom continued. However, they subsequently regretted staying as political developments in Libya rendered it a fiasco.
In February 2011, civil war erupted in Libya with accusations that Colonel Gaddafi forces were bombing innocent civilians which was followed in August with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Saif. Following the fall of Tripoli, the Gaddafis moved to Bani Walid until it was lost to rebel forces. As they fled Bani Walid, a NATO airstrike on their convoy
resulted in the loss of several fingers on Saif’s right hand. Colonel Gaddafi and Saif’s brother, Mutassim, were subsequently killed by rebels and Saif was captured by the Zintan-militia during an attempt to flee to Niger.
Some years later, over a London dinner with another Lebanese acquaintance and good friend of Saif, I asked about Saif. The response was he was in safe hands and doing well. The fundamental question remains as to what did the Arab Spring cause around that part of the world other than civil wars, chaos and death? The weaker countries such as Yemen and Libya remain in turmoil while Egypt reverted to its previous form of government following their experiment with a faith-based one. The Arab Spring enabled the tribal groups and clans of the Bedouin communities to emerge and seek amends for the autocratic governments of the past. NATO jumped in to settle old scores. Moreover, the French Air Force had a field day flying down to wreak havoc as they did with Saif’s convoy to then return home for a nice meal and bottle of wine. In fact, former President Obama admits that the Libya outcome was the major disappointment of his presidency.
Recently, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Robert F. Worth with photography by Jehad Nga entitled Qaddafi’s Son Is Alive. And He Wants to Take Libya Back. Relative to the executions of his father and other high-ranking officials, Saif was blessed to be captured by the Zintani rebels as they guarded him from other rebel factions and flew him to the Zintan region where he was held captive. In the years that followed, Libya totally deteriorated into warring militias. Terrorists plundered weapons depots, fueling insurgencies and wars across North Africa and the Middle East. Human trafficking thrived, sending migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe. As most educated Libyans spoke English and Italian, it is unlikely many went to France particularly considering the devastation caused by the French “fly boys.”
The Libyan conditions have been so bad, many Libyans are having fond memories of Saif’s historical comments about the need for democracy which distinguished him from his rather unbalanced father. Earlier this year, Robert F. Worth met with Saif in an opulent villa on the plateau of Zintan some two hours outside of Tripoli. There he interviewed Saif to get a full description of the total disarray in Libya. With respect to his relationship with the Zintan people, Saif said, “Can you imagine? The men who used to be my guards are now my friends.” Libya may appear to be at peace but the economic and living conditions are disgraceful. There is a strong belief that Saif could ultimately emerge to lead his devastated country under any semblance of a fair election. In fact, in recognition of that risk, one rival has said to have paid $30 million to have him murdered.
In response to a question of when Saif may return to the outside world, he said, “I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years. You need to come back slowly. Like a striptease, you need to play with their minds a little.” That observation could have come out of the playbook of my old friend Samy. Clearly, Saif is biding his time and, as the image below illustrates, he is dressed for the part which is a page out of his father’s playbook. Saif, stay safe and all the best to you and may the French pilot who shot your fingers off gag on his “foie gras.”
These river rocks are collected from the shore of the Mekong River in Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Thailand and hand painted with acrylic paint to resemble elephants. The artist utilizes the natural shape of each rock to create a unique work of art.