Professional Footballer Leads Pro-Gadaffi Charge in Benghazi

A professional footballer and son of embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi is believed to be leading the Gadaffi family’s brutal efforts to restore control of Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.

Two Libyan fighter pilots defected Monday with their planes to Malta after refusing orders to open fire on protesters in the city demanding an end to Gadaffi’s 41-year rule.

Gadaffi last week put one of his seven sons, Saadi al Gadaffi, described by a 2009 US diplomatic cable disclosed by Wikileaks as “notoriously ill-behaved,” in charge of defending Benghazi, which increasingly seems to have slipped from the Libyan leader’s control.

Saadi engineered before his departure for Benghazi a pro-Gadaffi manifestation on Green Square in the Libyan capital Tripoli in which he was cheered by some 1,000 soccer fans of Tripoli clubs Al Ahli, in which Saadi has a significant equity stake, and Al Ettihad.

Benghazi’s soccer stadium has since Saadi took charge of the pro-Gadaffi forces become a safe haven for thousands of Turks seeking to flee the Libyan regime’s vicious attempts to put down the popular revolt.

Saadi’s soccer career seemed more driven by Italian and Maltese interest in his country’s oil reserves and the Libyan regime’s efforts to use soccer as a diversion from the country’s political and economic problems than by any real ambition of Saadi himself.

Saadi initially signed up ten years with Maltese team Birkirkara F.C., but never showed up. Three years later, he joined Italy’s Perugia instead, but was suspended after only one game for failing a drug test. The incident earned him the reputation of being Italian Series A’s worst ever player.

Saadi’s dismal performance didn’t stop him from enlisting in 2005 with Italy’s Udinese where he was relegated to the role of bench-warmer except for a 10-minute appearance in an unimportant late season match. Samdoria president Riccardo Garrone, head of oil company Erg, subsequently invited Saadi to train with his team in the hope that it would open the door to Libyan oil contracts.

Saadi chose instead to become president of the Libyan Football Federation for a limited period of time. He had garnered experience in management as a board member of Juventus FC in which the government-controlled Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico) has a 7.5 per cent stake.

Latifco is currently represented on the Juventus board by the manager of its Long Term Investment Portfolio, Khaled Fareg Zentuti. Zentuti has so far remained quiet about events in his homeland.

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