Lebanon’s prime minister gave more than $16m to South African bikini model, report says

Prime minister began sending money to model in 2013, the New York Times reports

Richard Hall
Tuesday 01 October 2019 17:44 BST
Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, 2017
Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, 2017

Lebanon’s prime minister gave more than $16m to a South African bikini model with whom he was in a romantic relationship, the New York Times has reported.

Saad Hariri, a prominent Sunni political leader who is currently serving his second term, reportedly met Candice van der Merwe at an exclusive resort in the Seychelles.

Mr Hariri began sending money to the then 20-year-old Ms Van der Merwe in 2013, the newspaper reported, citing South African court documents. The payments came to light when tax authorities in South Africa began investigating a $15,299,965 payment from a Lebanese bank.

The allegations come at an awkward moment for the prime minister, one of Lebanon’s richest men and a key US ally.

Lebanon is currently grappling with an economic crisis that has sparked protests in recent days. Mr Hariri’s own business empire is also struggling. Last month, he temporarily shut down his television station due to financial difficulties, leaving many employees with months of unpaid wages. Another of his companies, Saudi Oger, collapsed in 2017, leaving thousands jobless.

According to the court documents cited by the New York Times, Ms Van der Merwe claimed to have met Mr Hariri at a resort called the Plantation Club in the Seychelles.

In 2013, she was gifted two cars worth some $250,000, apparently by Mr Hariri. Two months later, the transfer of more than $15m landed in her account. South African tax authorities suspected the money might have been taxable income. The ensuing court proceedings led to Ms Van der Merwe identifying Mr Hariri as the benefactor.

Details of the case were first reported in 2018 in South Africa, but they appear to have not been picked up by the international media until now.

There is no suggestion that Mr Hariri broke any laws. The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

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