Seif al-Islam: Face of Libyan regime was West's darling

There's only so much that money can buy

Educated at a top British university and dressed like an international banker, Seif al-Islam Gathafi symbolised a 'new' Libya -- until he took up a gun and became the face of the regime's fightback.
Now his old friends in London, where the 38-year-old mixed in elevated social circles at the finest hotels and restaurants, are turning their back on him.
Just a few weeks ago, Seif, the second of Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi's eight children, found the door to his wealthy and powerful friends was still very much open.
He counted Peter Mandelson, Britain's influential former business minister, and Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and a controversial trade ambassador for Britain, among his acquaintances.
Andrew even invited Seif to Buckingham Palace on one occasion, and the Libyan was a guest at a birthday party in New York thrown by the tycoon Nat Rothschild.
Seif was even on friendly terms with Joerg Haider, the Austrian far-right leader.
Suddenly, when the revolt shook the Gathafis' grip on Libya, Seif was the first member of the family to appear on television, pledging defiance and a terrible fate for the regime's opponents.
"Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya," he told CNN, just one quote in a batch of interviews with Western media in which he also pledged "rivers of blood".
In another clip he was shown exhorting the regime's fighters, machine gun in hand.
Until then, with his handmade suits and fluent English, Seif was viewed in the West as the polar opposite of his increasingly eccentric father and preached his wishes for a democratic future for his country.
"Western academics and diplomats were interested in the oil," Doctor Omar Ashour, director of the masters degree programme in Middle East studies at the University of Exeter, said.
"But they couldn't be seen talking to people suspected of crimes against humanity and terrorist plots but Seif was Western-educated.
"He had a soft face. He was softly spoken. So he was somebody the world can talk to and deal with."
The professor met Seif on a number of occasions, most recently at a "national conference of reconciliation" in March last year, when he recalls Seif was "at the peak" of his power.
"His power was quite significant. He was presented to EU and US diplomats. He convinced many people because he had money," Ashour said.
Seif was widely considered the key decision-maker in the Libyan Investment Authority, with assets of $65 billion (47 billion euros).
On Tuesday, the European Union slapped sanctions on the body.
Seif also used his money to try to give Libya a new face, pouring funds into a charitable foundation.
He donated £1.5 million ($2.4 million, 1.7 million euros) to the London School of Economics, where he gained a degree and a masters.
Even though it only took 300,000 pounds, the donation has caused the university deep embarrassment since the Libyan revolt started.
Director Howard Davies was forced to quit, an investigation into the extent of the school's links to Libya has been launched and even Seif's doctorate thesis is being checked for plagiarism.
Goga Ashkenazi, a London-based Kazakh socialite and oil tycoon who also knows Seif, said that when she saw him make blood-curdling threats on television, she could not recognise the "cultured, civilised man" she knew.
"I believe that Seif was faced with a difficult choice -- either going with his modern, forward-thinking views and betraying his family, or supporting his tyrannical father," she told London's Evening Standard newspaper on Tuesday.
Ashour, the professor from Exeter, believes Seif tried to "con" the West.
"The whole idea was to prolong the life of an oppressive regime," he said.
Seif also tried to befriend and hold discussions with Libyan opposition figures when he was in London, but Ashour dismisses his attempts.
"By no means would the protesters accept Seif. It's too late and too little," he said.
"It's quite obvious, most of the opposition figures that he was trying to call up are fighting against him."