Saadi Gaddafi, son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, leaves prison for Turkey

The Libyan authorities released the deposed autocrat's "footballer son" from prison in a bid to move towards national reconciliation
Saadi Gadafi excarcelado

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The abrupt reappearance in late July of the missing second son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who revealed his plans to run in the upcoming presidential elections in the North African country, has been overshadowed by the release from prison of the autocrat's third son, Saadi Gaddafi, announced Monday in a statement issued by the Libyan Presidential Council. The interim administration has reinforced its commitment to release political prisoners whose sentences have expired or who have not even been finally convicted in order to move towards national reconciliation.

A Libyan court on Sunday upheld a decision to release Saadi Gaddafi two years after his release was agreed, a decision that was never implemented due to political and tribal pressure. Justice has found him innocent of the charges of defamation, threats and murder for which he was extradited and charged. Along with him, among others, Colonel Ahmed Ramadan, the former Libyan dictator's personal secretary, has been released. Both releases follow negotiations between interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibé and tribal leaders, according to Reuters. Acting Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha was also reportedly involved in the talks.

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Hours after learning of the ruling, the former dictator's son boarded a private plane to leave the country, a 'conditio sine qua non' for his release. The authorities also limited their list of destinations to three countries where Saadi could go: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. The tyrant's descendant chose the latter, where he left to join his wife and children. The family's spokesman, Musa Ibrahim Gaddafi, confirmed this to the Turkish media Haberler. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey did all the logistical planning for Saadi Gaddafi's arrival," the spokesman revealed. The ministry headed by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is said to have been in charge of the transfer.

Gaddafi's third son had been approved by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to take refuge in both countries, but Saadi chose Turkey because of "logistical facilities". The family spokesman said he endured difficult times in prison, where he had to endure "inhumane conditions". Now, says Musa Ibrahim, Saadi needs time to recover. "He is a free man," the spokesman said. "If he wants to live somewhere else, of course he will live there. In Saadi's mind would be to go to Egypt, where his mother and second wife of the former Libyan dictator, Safia Farkash, lives.

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Key member of the Gaddafi clan

Known as the deposed dictator's 'footballer son', Saadi Gaddafi (Tripoli, 1973) was a professional footballer. He made his debut for Perugia in the Italian Serie A in a match against Juventus during the 2003-2004 season. After that, he played for Udinese and then Sampdoria, although he only played two league games. He came to calcio at the express request of then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a figure with close ties to Libya, and left after being sanctioned for a suspected doping case.

After his experience in transalpine football, Saadi returned to Libya to lead Tripoli's Al-Alhy and captain the North African national team. After hanging up his boots, the dictator's third son became president of the Football Federation and played a leading role in Dantesque scenes of match-fixing and clashes between rival supporters, which on one occasion led to the demolition of the stadium in Benghazi, the country's second largest city and eventually the cradle of the revolution. But his story does not end there. Considered a playboy, Saadi had a passion for women, luxury and nightlife. These hobbies were in contradiction with his father's order to serve as commander of the army's elite unit, despite his lack of military experience.

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One of the accusations that still hangs over him, despite his acquittal in 2018, relates to the 2005 murder of local football coach Bashir Rian, a person he trusted at the time. His complete impunity, like that of his family, suffered a profound setback with the 2011 revolutionary outbreak caused by the Arab Spring. A movement that sought to demolish the foundations of Muammar Gaddafi's tyrannical regime. Finally, with NATO intervention, the rebels launched an offensive on the city of Sirte, the despot's hometown, where he was brutally assassinated along with Moatassem, his fourth descendant.

For his part, Saadi fled the country and crossed the border into Niger in search of political asylum. In March 2014, the year in which the devastating civil war that still fractures Libya began, the former footballer landed in jail after being handed over to the Tripoli militias by the Nigerian government. He is one of the only members of the Gaddafi clan still alive after the death of three of his brothers during the revolution and, unlike Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, he is exempt from any legal obligations.

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The release of Saadi Gaddafi is an attempt to break the political deadlock in Libya. The North African country faces an institutional duality that impedes an effective transition of power. On the one hand, the interim government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, controls the eastern part of Libya and is backed by the Libyan National Army; on the other, the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibé, dominates the northwest. Meanwhile, clashes between rival forces were reported in a neighbourhood of the capital. Libya remains a powder keg.