Beirut: Lebanese expressed shock and anger on social media after a report was published on Monday in the New York Times which alleged that Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri paid $16 million to a South African bikini model he met in Seychelles in 2013.
The paper claimed its report was based on several documents and statements obtained from a South African court. Hariri allegedly made the bank transfers to the model, Candice Van Der Merwe, between his two terms as prime minister, with the first being made in 2013.
Hariri was not part of the Lebanese government then, and was worth $1.9 billion at the time, according to Forbes Magazine. His payments in cash and gifts didn’t break any laws in South Africa or Lebanon.
But once the news broke on Monday, it created waves of shock and criticism amongst social media networks. People were shocked how he could have spent such lavish amounts at a time when his businesses – Saudi Oger – and media empire were collapsing.
The topic was trending on Twitter, with more than 3,000 tweeps including journalists, politicians, officials and ordinary citizens divided into two groups: One group was criticising and making fun of Hariri while others defended him — saying he was not as corrupt as others and that he is free to spend his personal money as he wishes.
Some tweeps, believed to be former employees of Hariri, condemned him for not paying salaries at Saudi Oger and Future newspaper and TV, while at the same time giving $16 million to the model.
Others took to social media to blame Hariri for his lavish expenditures, accusing him of spending public money in similar ways, and failing to save the country from its current economic crisis.
They also cast doubts about his ability to run the government that has announced strict austerity reforms to cut public debt and avoid collapse.
However, one twitter user questioned the credibility of the ‘court papers’ the New York Times based its article on. He said: “How Hariri spends his money is nobody’s business.”
A female user tweeted a Quranic verse hinting that the news was baseless and malicious, and that Hariri was an upright and decent politician who wouldn’t indulge in such behaviour. She implied that such news should be double-checked prior to publishing.
“Hariri is the cleanest politician and prime minister who knows what is the best for his country and works towards it, unlike most others,” one tweet read.
Another female user criticised “shallow-minded” Lebanese, who did not even bother to read the article fully.
Another tweep accused an ex-minister and current lawmaker, whom he described as “loving to dance in Greece”, of being the article.
Broadcast journalist Liliane Daoud tweeted that Hariri pays $16m to a model and doesn’t pay his former employees due to economic woes.
Journalist Layal Hadad said it does not remain a ‘personal matter’ to spend that much of money when 100s of his employees remain unpaid.