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Sat Nov 01 05:19:07 SAST 2014

SA model and Gaddafi's son

LIN SAMPSON | 13 March, 2011 00:111 Comments
IMAGE QUEEN: In this file picture Gina Athans, at the time one of the country's top swimsuit models, sizzles for the camera

South African model and former teen beauty queen Gina Athans was hired to give an extreme image makeover to the son of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

And the brunette, who once graced the covers of magazines in designer clothes and swimsuits, sang the praises of her "friend" in a week in which comments by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi have shocked the world.

Athans is CEO of her own public relations agency in Cape Town, and her only other office is in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. But this week she said that office was now closed.

She was awarded a contract to design a website intended to raise the global profile of Gaddafi jnr and his charitable work.

Since the battle between Gadda fi's militia forces and demonstrators began, he's also been accused of plagiarism in a thesis he wrote for a PhD degree from the elite London School of Economics (LSE), which his Gadda fi International Charity and Development Foundation funded to the tune of millions.

He studied there from 2003 to 2008 and gained both a master's degree and a doctorate amid allegations that he used a ghost writer and copied sections.

Pro-democracy demonstrators this week occupied the £10-million mansion he owns in Hampstead, London.

It has emerged that prior to the Libyan uprising, Athans's firm was recruited to boost his image. She recently told guests at a function in Cape Town about her close dealings with the family and claimed that Gaddafi jnr had even had a puppy flown to her from London.

But this week she distanced herself from speculation that she was close friends with him.

She said they were business associates and she was no longer involved in the public relations campaign .

Asked about the deal, she declined to elaborate, saying she had signed a "confidentiality agreement".

"Saif," said Athans, "was a complete reformist. He was at the LSE and very well educated, and he made a lot of difference in the country. It was largely through Saif that sanctions were dropped and the Lockerbie bomber released."

Cape Town's high society swirled with rumours about the nature of the relationship between Athans and Gaddafi jnr, with some asking why, when he could afford to hire a top public relations agency, he chose hers.

People who know Athans said she and Saif were friends and that she had visited him in London and Tripoli.

Athans said: "I did know him, but we weren't friends. We were in business together."

Last year Athans told The Times newspaper that she was returning from a business trip to Tripoli, where she had been promoting Gaddafi's charity, when Afriqiyah Airways flight 8U771 crashed.

She also posted regular tweets from Tripoli while there on business in September last year. "Can't wait for my managing director to arrive tomorrow. At least I won't be alone in North Africa," she tweeted.

Athans married Jordanian billionaire Eyhab Jumean in 2004, but they later divorced.

She said she had never received a dog from Gaddafi jnr and backtracked somewhat after being quizzed about the nature of her relationship with the dictator's second-eldest son.

She said: "I was very shocked that he has gone back to his father and given up his reformist ideas. It has been both a shock and disappointment. I did experience a lot through doing this work, but it remains a very, very sensitive issue. I know a lot I can't talk about."

Saif has publicly threatened to unleash the full might of the army in a counterattack against the demonstrations sweeping Libya. He vowed to fight to the last minute, the last bullet.

In a television interview, he said: "This is our country. We fight here in Libya. We die here in Libya."

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