Lebanon: Saad Hariri offered $16 million to a South African model

By Jules Crétois

Posted on Tuesday, 8 October 2019 12:02
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri takes a selfie with a participant at the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Saad Hariri reportedly paid more than $16 million to a young South African model in 2013, according to The New York Times. The case weakens the Lebanese Prime Minister, against a backdrop of protests at home against an increasingly difficult economic situation.

Saad Hariri’s setbacks continue to accumulate. On 30 September The New York Times revealed that the Lebanese Prime Minister paid more than $16m to Candice Van der Merwe, a South African model he met in the Seychelles, according to legal documents.

  • The 20-year-old woman claims to have had a relationship with the head of government after meeting him in a luxury hotel in 2013.

Bad timing

The case is making headlines in South Africa and Lebanon.

The young woman, a professional “swimsuit model”, has been engaged in a fight with the South African tax administration for several years. As early as 2013, articles in the local press had mentioned “a gift from an Arab admirer“, which at the time was still unidentified.

These transfers do not appear to have violated Lebanese or South African laws, says the Times.

At the head of his political party Courant du futur, the Lebanese Sunni leader was not Prime Minister when he sent money to Candice Van der Merwe. His first term ended in 2009, while the second began in 2016.

But his situation remains precarious.

Demonstrators have been marching in Beirut since September to denounce a deterioration in living conditions. In recent years, the Lebanese economy has stuttered, with growth of just 0.2% in 2018 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

  • And even though the government has adopted a so-called “austerity” budget for 2019, the government’s debt is still very high.

The Prime Minister did not wish to answer questions from the American newspaper.

But shortly after the article was published, he reacted publicly, implying that parties hostile to his political camp are behind a “campaign” to prevent him from carrying out the necessary reforms in Lebanon.

  • “Whatever campaigns they launch against me, however much they may say, write or do, I will continue to work and I will not stop,” he said.

Assets of approximately $1.5bn

Son of the businessman and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, assassinated in 2005, Saad Hariri is considered one of the richest men in Lebanon. The Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires attributes it a fortune of about $1.5 billion in 2018.

In particular, the Prime Minister inherited shares in the company from BTP Saudi Oger, a Saudi construction giant that disappeared in 2017, whose former employees are still waiting for their unpaid wages to be paid.

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