The Journal at Webster University
🏆Awards and recognition for this story
Honorable Mention — Investigative Reporting — Missouri College Media Association 2012
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of deceased former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, was captured Nov. 19 in the southwestern desert of Libya, Libya’s transitional government said. Before his detainment by Libyan forces, Gaddafi shared a number of connections to Webster University.
Over the course of the late 1990s, Gaddafi applied to Webster’s Geneva and Vienna campuses, and both times he was rejected because of low Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. The TOEFL is a requirement of Webster for non-native English speakers to gain admittance into the university.
Gaddafi was eventually admitted into IMADEC University in Vienna in 1998.
Mustafa Zarti, deputy head of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s $65 billion sovereign wealth fund, earned his MBA at Webster Vienna. Zarti and Gaddafi met and became friends while the two were studying in Vienna; Zarti at Webster and Gaddafi at IMADEC. In an interview with Bloomberg, Zarti said the younger Gaddafi recommended him for the job of deputy head of the LIA and, in 2007, he assumed the role.
Gaddafi “approached” Webster Geneva in February 1997 according to the web-posting of a witness statement he gave the Royal Courts of Justice in Britain. In the statement, Gaddafi said he, “liked,” the university and wished to stay in Switzerland to begin preparing for his TOEFL exam.
Gaddafi said he was unable to continue preparing because the Swiss government withdrew his visa. However, Robert Spencer, director-general of Webster Europe, said when Gaddafi applied for admissions to Webster Geneva, he was denied for not meeting the university’s admissions requirements.
“Specifically, he had sub-standard TOEFL score,” Spencer said in an email. “He was never enrolled at the Geneva campus and did not take English courses here aimed at improving his TOEFL score.”
After leaving Switzerland, Gaddafi said he looked into attending Webster Vienna but did not like it. Spencer said it was his understanding Gaddafi had also applied to Webster Vienna but was again denied admission because of his low TOEFL score.
The Ministry of Justice, which holds court records, confirms they have the witness statement, but because of privacy reasons, cannot release the document. The web-post where the witness statement can be found is credited to Dr. Mansour El-Kikhia, chair of the political science department at the University of Texas at San Antonio and native of Libya. El-Kikhia confirms the witness statement is genuine.
Zarti, who resigned from his post last February and fled the country, is now living at an undisclosed location in Vienna. Because of his connection to the Libyan regime and Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Austrian central bank has frozen his $1.4 million in assets. The European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States have taken similar steps. Zarti is now fighting to regain his reputation and money.
“It’s very, very tough,” Zarti said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I’m responsible for other people. I’ve been treated very unfairly.”
Gaddafi was widely regarded as heir apparent to take over his father’s regime. His capture is a final blow to loyalists who believed a Gaddafi-led uprising could restore the country to pre-revolution status. After previously vowing to “live or die” in Libya, Gaddafi surrendered without a fight. He was captured with several supporters as they traveled through the desert.
“(Gaddafi’s arrest) is the second chapter in the Gaddafi saga. It ends any threat to the existing system,” El-Kikhia said. “It eliminates the Gaddafi throne, the Gaddafi tribe and the Gaddafis’ power from Libya once and for all … and, ultimately, it gives the Libyans an opportunity to actually find out where some of Libya’s money is. He knows where so much of that money is invested across the globe.”
The New York Times and The Telegraph report Gaddafi is being held in the city of Zintan in Libya, the hometown of the militia who captured him. Leaders of the militia have said they won’t turn Gaddafi over to authorities until a formal Libyan government is created. The Zintan militia group is demanding they be represented in the new government and are using Gaddifi as a bargaining chip. Already demonstrating its political sway, the Zintan militia’s head has been named defense minister in the new government.
Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. An ICC prosecutor announced Tuesday Gaddafi could be tried in Libya and the ICC would be willing to help Libya with the trial. Under Libyan law, Gaddafi could face the death penalty.