Former dictator's son arrives from Niger to face corruption charges as delegates meet in Rome to discuss Libya's future
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 March 2014 15.07 GMT
Saadi Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi's most flamboyant sons, has been extradited from Niger to stand trial in Libya in what will be seen as a major coup for Tripoli.
Photographs showing the 40-year-old in blue prison garb having his head shaved were posted on social media on Thursday morning hours after Tripoli confirmed his arrival.
His extradition came as delegates gathered in Rome for the biggest international conference on the future of Libya held in two years, called in response to growing violence and unrest in the oil-rich nation.
Libya promised Saadi, 40, a fair trial, which is expected to focus on corruption during the former dictatorship. "The suspect will receive fair and just treatment, which will reflect international standards," said a government statement released by the London embassy.
Another Gaddafi son, Saif al-Islam, is in militia custody in the mountain town of Zintan and the dictator's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi is in Tripoli after being extradited from Mauritania two years ago.
Leaked US diplomatic cables from 2009 portray Saadi as the black sheep of the Gaddafi clan – a man without political influence in the family hierarchy.
He is best known for ignominious efforts to become a professional footballer abroad. He was signed as a striker, in controversial circumstances, by the Italian Serie A clubs Perugia, Udinese and Sampdoria in quick succession, but managed just 26 minutes playing time, and no goals, in four seasons.
In Libya, paternal influence rather than ability ensured a more extensive career with leading Tripoli clubs. Football commentators were ordered to refer to him by name – an exception to the rule that other players were called only by their numbers.
"He tried hard but he couldn't play," one former Libyan international player said. "But he was Gaddafi's son. If he ran at you, you made sure not to tackle him."
Giving up on football, Saadi – who was married to a general's daughter – threw himself into hedonism. In 2010, a Rome court ordered him to pay a £330,000 unpaid hotel bill racked up partying on the Italian Riviera. In Tripoli he kept nine lions in a private enclosure at the city zoo, their cages laid out in front of a picnic table where he would entertain friends.
Black sheep or not, he jumped into the limelight in the 2011 revolution when Tripoli fell to rebel forces and he contacted foreign media outlets saying he had authority from his father to broker a truce. When that failed, he fled to Niger, where he had been under house arrest.
Saadi's extradition sharpens the focus on continued wrangling between Libya and the international criminal court on who will try Saif al-Islam and Senussi – both wanted by The Hague for war crimes.
Ben Emmerson QC, Senussi's ICC-appointed lawyer is appealing against a Hague ruling that Libya can hold such trials, arguing this is impossible in a country racked by militia violence and instability.