How a R150 million gift to a South African model is helping fuel Lebanon’s mass protests

Business Insider SA
  • Mass protests in Lebanon are being fuelled, in part, by revelations of a massive gift to a South African model, a Lebanese journalist says in the Washington Post.
  • Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri gave Candice van der Merwe $15.3 million (roughly R150 million at the time) which she used to buy property in South Africa.
  • For already angered Lebanese – and especially workers at Hariri companies who haven't been paid, this was considered “a slap in the face”, Kareem Chehayeb said. 
  • For more stories go to

An extra-marital affair between Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and South African model Candice van der Merwe helped fuel widespread protests in Lebanon, a Lebanese journalist says in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

Last month the New York Times reported that Hariri gave Van der Merwe $15.3 million (roughly R150 million at the time) in a “donation” in 2013 to buy property.

The BBC reported that thousands of people gathered in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Friday to protest corruption and economic decline. By Sunday protests were reported in several major cities, with estimates that hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets.

The protests came after the government announced a tax of $0.20 (R2.96) on calls made via WhatsApp and other messaging apps on Thursday, The Times of Israel reported.

In a column in the Washington Post, Lebanese journalist Kareem Chehayeb said public sentiment has turned against the government as it implemented budgets cuts and tax increases due to economic hardships.

Measures to tax the wealthy, such as billionaire Hariri, has however never been entertained, Chehayeb said. 

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 18: French President Emma
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, his wife Lara and their son Hussam with French President Emmanuel Macron (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

He said when news broke a month ago that Hariri paid Van der Merwe $15.3 million – in what he described as an attempt to cover up an affair – it added to the Lebanese people’s frustration. 

It was especially considered “a slap in the face” for Hariri’s unpaid employees in struggling construction, and media companies, Chehayeb said. 

Van der Merwe said she met Hariri at The Plantation club and resort in the Seychelles in 2012, when she was 20 and Hariri 43. 

Hariri, the father of three, was married at the time. He became prime minister of Lebanon in 2016. 

Van der Merwe claimed the trip was fully sponsored and she was asked to come to “lend a sense of glamour and exclusivity,” the Mail & Guardian reported. 

When models arrived at the resort, their passports were taken away and they are not allowed to take any photos or tell stories of what happens there, Van der Merwe said. 

City Press reported that the first two times she went to the Seychelles, she flew economy class, but thereafter flew business or first class.

In an email to Hariri, seen by the New York Times, Van der Merwe wrote “Love you my Saad” with her banking details, adding that she intends to buy property with the money. 

Money arrived in her account from a Lebanese bank shortly after.

The details of the donation emerged during legal action between Van der Merwe and the SA Revenue Service (Sars), which thought the transaction suspicious.

(Compiled by James de Villiers) 

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