08.27.11

Gaddafi's Italian Connection

For years Gaddafi and his clan lived it up in Italy with Berlusconi, bought soccer teams, and invested millions, but now la dolce vita is over as the dictator’s falls and his Italian friends disavow him. By Barbie Latza Nadeau.

It is no secret that Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi were soulmates until last March when Italy starting allowing NATO to use its airbases to bomb the country. The two shared a penchant for opulence and sex, made more obvious by the porn stash found in Gaddafi’s compound last week. Gaddafi was a valuable trade partner but his greatest gift to the Italian billionaire may have been teaching him the nubile sex ritual known as “bunga-bunga”. But Berlusconi shared an intimate relationship with Gaddafi that went far beyond their love of hair dye and erotica, he considered Gaddafi a “close friend and partner.” The friendship was mutual. Berlusconi’s photo shaking hands with Gaddafi is on all Libyan passports issued since 2008 when the two leaders signed a bilateral “Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation” in Libya. When Italy got involved with NATO bombardments, Gaddafi expressed his disappointment in Berlusconi. "I am so shocked, I feel betrayed, I don't even know what to say to Berlusconi." In secret messages that will be released by Italy’s foreign ministry next week, Gaddafi blatantly threatens to turn the tiny island of Lampedusa into an “inferno by infiltrating the refugees with armed fighters.” Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini says, “Gaddafi also planned to masquerade military cadavers in civilian clothing and blame NATO.”

But Gaddafi and his family also shared close personal and business ties with other Italians who have now deserted the despot. Gaddafi’s most important friend outside the government was Paolo Scaroni, head of ENI oil company, who forged a lucrative relationship with the Gaddafi for the sake of keeping a firm hold on Libyan oil. ENI was one of the first to develop production when oil was discovered in 1959. Once Gaddafi even halted a commercial flight on the tarmac leaving Tripoli to get Scaroni off, just so the two could share dinner. Last March, after NATO bombing began, Scaroni pleaded with European partners to stop sanctions and military action against Libya and try to rebuild ties. Now he says that NATO was right and that ENI will have an even better relationship with the new government.  He told Newsweek that he did not see any direct correlation between his or Berlusconi’s friendship with Gaddafi and ENI’s future in Libya. “The truth is that the new government in Libya will need Italy and ENI even more than Gaddafi did,” he told The Daily Beast. “We have a 40-year history in the country’s oil production and they need that oil to survive and rebuild their country.”

Giancarlo Lehner, who was part of the Libya task force in Italian parliament that helped oversee the trade partnerships between the two countries, is still insisting that Italy owes Gaddafi or at least his family some sort of asylum. He told The Daily Beast, “We have to work with the rebels now to honor our business dealings, but that doesn’t mean we need to turn our backs on Gaddafi who was instrumental in getting those agreements in the first place. Libya remains one of our most important trade partners, thanks to our friendship with Gaddafi.”

Many Libyan defectors once close to Gaddafi have come to Italy. In May eight army officers defected from Gaddafi’s military service and are still living with their families in Italy. Last week, his former second in command Abd el Salam Jalloud defected as well. He met with the foreign press corps in Rome on Thursday and distanced himself from Gaddafi, insisting that the two had fallen out in the 1990s. “He ran Libya like he owned it,” Jalloud said. “And all the citizens were just part of his dysfunctional family.” Jalloud is living the king’s life in Rome now, holed up in a luxury hotel near the Villa Borghese and meeting with Italian elite—many of whom he knows.

Almost everyone in Perugia has a story of al-Saadi Gaddafi, from how he bought several of his teammates (the ones who played well) SMART cars to how he often took his closest friends and teammates by private jet to Milan and Sardinia to go dancing.

But long before Gaddafi started his bromance with Berlusconi, the Gaddafi clan and the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company were already intimately involved in Italy. The Libyan leader had a long-standing business relationship with Turin-based FIAT motors, of which he once had a 15 percent stake when the company was nearly bankrupt. A custom-made green and yellow electric FIAT 500 was found in Gaddafi’s compound when it was raided last week. The LAFIC still has a stake in Finmeccanica, Italy's largest defense company that supplied the Libyan army with weapons and tanks. It also holds a stake in Unicredit, Italy's largest bank. Gaddafi acquired 7 percent of the wildly successful, FIAT-owned Juventus soccer team in 2002. Many speculated at the time that it was to ensure that Gaddafi’s third son al-Saadi,an aspiring footballer, would get to play. “My dream is to wear the black and white shirt,” al-Saadi said when his father announced his purchase of shares in Juventus. Problem was, the young Gaddafi was an atrocious soccer player and the team was far too successful and its management far too astute to cave to signing the son of an investor, even if it was Gaddafi.

In 2003, with a little nudging from Silvio Berlusconi, who didn’t want to sign a bad player to his own Milan team’s roster, Perugia’s billionaire owner Luciano Gaucci made a deal with al-Saadi, then 27, and signed him on. (The Perugia team went bankrupt a year later and Gaucci was charged with corruption and fled to the Dominican Republic.) al-Saadi sat on the bench for nearly two seasons before failing a drug test for steroids. During that time his father rented out one whole floor of the luxury Brufani Hotel overlooking the Umbrian countryside. Almost everyone in Perugia has a story of al-Saadi, from how he bought several of his teammates (the ones who played well) SMART cars to how he often took his closest friends and teammates by private jet to Milan and Sardinia to go dancing. He meandered through the Umbrian hinterland in his bright yellow Lambroghini Diablo (a painting of which was found in the family compound garage in Tripoli).

After Perugia went bankrupt, he transferred to nearby Udine to play for the Udinese, where lived at Là di Moret, the city’s most luxurious hotel. Ivano Molinaro was a doorman at the time and went on to write a book about the secret lives of hotel guests, including al-Saadi. He told The Daily Beast that the younger Gaddafi was “as crazy as his father” and the hotel bills, which were paid directly from his father’s account in Tripoli, were astronomical. Molinaro says al-Saadi kept a room for Dina his Doberman and the dog’s instructor. Molinaro said Dina got the bed and the instructor slept on a simple mat on the floor. Al-Saadi travelled with an entourage of 13, including his wife’s personal assistant who once ordered a whole milk bath for her, angering the hotel owner who thought someone had broken into the kitchen and stolen all the milk, “The morning after there wasn’t even enough milk to make a cappuccino,” Molinaro says.

Italy is first in line now to help rebuild a new Libya, hoping the rebels forget how close Berlusconi and the country was to the man who they nearly destroyed their country to oust from power. But even though the Gaddafi’s won’t be gallivanting about Italy anytime soon, there is no question they left their mark.