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Lebanon’s Hariri said to have given $16m to South Africa model

The allegations date back to 2013 and are unconnected to anti-government protests taking place in Lebanon now

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, is alleged to have given more than $16 million to a bikini model following their meeting at a luxury resort in the Seychelles in 2013, South African court documents obtained by the New York Times have revealed. Candice van der Merwe was aged 20 when she met the then 43-year-old, who was not Prime Minister at the time.

Hariri was running his family business and living in both France and Saudi Arabia when he met the South African model. He is said to have used his own money to make payments to Ms van der Merwe. There is no suggestion that Lebanese government money was involved. The married father of three has not broken any Lebanese or South African laws with the money transfers as he was not in office during the period of the relationship.

Van der Merwe starred in various energy drink commercials and swimwear calendars in South Africa, and had an annual income of barely more than $5,400 prior to the bank transfer from Hariri. Hence, when a total of $15,299,965 was suddenly transferred into her account from a Lebanese bank, the South African authorities grew suspicious after classing it as taxable income. She insisted that the money was sent as a gift and was therefore not taxable under South African law. In the ensuing court hearings, her lawyers presented her benefactor as an “extremely well-to-do Middle Eastern gentleman.”

READ: Protests over deteriorating economic conditions

The money sent by Hariri enabled the model to buy property worth around $10 million while receiving further gifts, including two cars worth over $250,000 as well as luxury watches. While she and her father – who has been involved in legal battles over tax himself – were embroiled in the court cases, Hariri sent another $1 million to van der Merwe to cover her legal costs after her assets were frozen by the court. His identity was only revealed now that court documents have been made public.

Hariri’s net worth at the beginning of the transfers in 2013 amounted to $1.9 billion, due largely to the business interests and assets he inherited from his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005.

Despite the transfers not violating any law, the revelation comes at a difficult and complex time for Hariri, Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim politician. He announced only this month that the Lebanese government would declare an economic state of emergency. Moreover, his business and political empires have fallen on difficult times, resulting in his family’s construction conglomerate, Saudi Oger, ceasing its operations in 2017, while the media outlets he owns are allegedly struggling to pay salaries to their employees.

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