Entertainment

Meet Van Der Merwe, Gorgeous Bikini Model Who Sliced $16m from Ex-Lebanese Leader

Her name is Candice Van der Merwe, a South African extremely gorgeous bikini whose sexy looks captivated the immediate Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri into parting with a whooping $16 million.

Hariri gave more than $16 million to the South African bikini model who said they had a romantic relationship after they met at a luxury resort in the Seychelles, according to South African court documents obtained by The New York Times.

The prime minister, Saad Hariri, was not in office when he sent the money starting in 2013, and the transfer does not appear to have violated any Lebanese or South African laws.

But the revelation in a South African court case this year of the extravagant gifts to a younger model comes during a difficult period for Mr. Hariri, the top Sunni Muslim politician in Lebanon and an American ally.

His business and political empires have fallen on hard times, depriving many employees of their pay. His family’s construction conglomerate, Saudi Oger, ceased operations in 2017, and his media outlets have struggled to pay salaries.

The gifts have no clear tie to Lebanon’s current economic woes and Mr. Hariri, a married father of three, was sufficiently wealthy to have made the payments himself. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth in 2013 at $1.9 billion, thanks largely to business interests he inherited after his father, Rafik Hariri, who also served as prime minister, was assassinated in Beirut in 2005.

Ms. van der Merwe said she had been recruited at age 19 to travel to an exclusive resort in the Seychelles Islands called The Plantation Club that was “frequented by some of the richest private individuals in the world,” including billionaires “for whom money is no object.”

At this “playground of the super wealthy,” she said, “it is the norm for lavish parties and events to be held” and models were flown in “to lend a sense of glamour and exclusivity.” The models’ passports were taken when they arrived and they were forbidden from taking photos.

Ms. van der Merwe spent four days at the resort in 2012, she said, and connected with people she met because of her “healthy lifestyle” and other qualities.

“I have also been told that I have a very engaging personality,” she said.

Other trips followed. On her first two, she flew economy class. Later, she was upgraded to first or business class.

During a trip in March 2013, she said, she told friends that her “dream car” was the Audi R8. After she returned home, she had an accident that totaled her car and cracked her cellphone screen.

A car dealer soon called her to pick up a new Audi R8 Spyder, which had been paid for and registered in her name. She also received two new cellphones, including one with international roaming, and a Land Rover Evoque.

The two vehicles were worth more than $250,000, a sum that was added to her tax bill. Her lawyers wrote in 2015 that they were gifts from the same “extremely well-to-do Middle Eastern gentleman” who sent her the money.

When government investigators asked about the $15 million transfer, a bank official said that “the sender and beneficiary are boyfriend/girlfriend and are currently together in the Seychelles.”

Ms. van der Merwe bought properties worth more than $10 million, including a house in Cape Town’s upscale Fresnaye neighborhood with an outdoor swimming pool and commanding ocean views. She also lent $2.7 million to a real estate company her father was involved with and made other transactions, leaving $537,000 in her account, she said.

The tax authorities considered her claim that the money was a gift implausible and suspected the funds had been for her father, Gary van der Merwe, a businessman who had fought repeated court battles with the tax authorities over his own business dealings. The authorities levied income tax on the sum, froze Ms. van der Merwe’s assets and appointed a curator to oversee them until the matter was settled.

So Mr. Hariri stepped in again, sending Ms. van der Merwe an additional $1 million to help cover her legal and living expenses, according to court documents.

Hariri resigned from office late October following two weeks of intensive protests against his government over corruption matters.

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