The lawyer for one of deposed Libyan dictator Moamar Gadhafi's sons told ABC News Friday that his client "vigorously denies" ever attempting to use forged documents to escape to a life of luxury on a Mexican beach, as Mexican officials claimed earlier this week, but did not deny that Saadi Gadhafi might have sought refuge in foreign countries before his escape to Niger.
"Given Saadi Gadhafi's prominence," said Nick Kaufman, Saadi's attorney, "there is absolutely no logic to his seeking illegal refuge in a coastal resort frequented by film stars and other celebrities where his presence would be immediately discovered by the authorities."
But after "absolutely denying" that Gadhafi's son had committed any crime, Kaufman said, "it is hard to fault him for fleeing a country where his life was in grave danger and he would undoubtedly have met the same fate as befell his father and brother. Any person in his situation would seek refuge in any country willing to offer him a safe haven." Moamar Gadhafi died of multiple bullet wounds soon after his capture by rebel forces on Oct. 20. Saadi Gadhafi, 38, fled to Niger in September. Kaufman said his client had written to the president of Niger Thursday to thank him 'for recognizing his humanitarian plight," and emphasized that Saadi was observing the restrictions placed on him by the government of Niger.
A top Mexican official said Wednesday that Saadi had planned to slip secretly into Mexico, but that the plot was foiled by Mexican intelligence agents.
The alleged plan to bring Saadi Gadhafi and his family into Mexico, dubbed "Operation Huesped," meaning "Guest," was revealed by Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire at a news conference. The elaborate scheme involved the use of false Mexican identities, several safe houses and a criminal gang that included a Mexican residing in the U.S., a Canadian and a Dane, Poire said.
The conspirators, according to Poire, used "large economic resources" to fly into Mexico to open bank accounts and procure potential safe houses ahead of Saadi's arrival. Gadhafi allegedly planned to live in Punta Mita, a village on the Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta studded with five-star resorts and golf courses. PICTURE STORY: Where Are the Gadhafi Kids?
Four suspects are being held in connection to the plot for allegedly falsifying documents, among other charges, and an investigation is still ongoing, Poire said.
Kaufman said Friday that the timing of the press conference "and the stated involvement of foreign intelligence agencies" suggested that the alleged plot was an attempt to discredit Saadi, "who is pursuing his life afresh fully respecting the restraints placed on him by the international community." Kaufman said he did not want to accuse Mexican officials of fabricating the plot, but said he found it surprising that no authorities had contacted him. "This would suggest that they do not view my client as being suspected of anything at all."
Where are the Gadhafi kids?
Saadi is one of the Gadhafi sons, along with Saif al-Arab and Hannibal, described as "ne'er-do-wells" in a 2009 U.S. State Department cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
"Hannibal and Saadi both have checkered histories of unseemly behavior and public scuffles with authorities in Europe and elsewhere," one cable said.
Saadi played professional soccer in Libya but was never able to make his mark in the far-more competitive Italian football leagues, cycling through three teams between 2004 and 2007 and only appearing in games twice. He reportedly failed a drug test at Perugia and played all of ten minutes for Udinese.
In February, as a popular uprising gained strength and international pressure on Libya increased, Saadi joked in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Christiane Amanpour that he was worried about not being able to go on safari, but called the rising Arab Spring an unstoppable "earthquake."
Saadi was reportedly captured by rebels in August, but later the rebel Libyan ambassador to Washington, Ali Suleiman Aujali, told ABC News that the rebels never claimed they had Al-Saadi in custody.
Though two of Saadi's siblings were reportedly killed in the fighting in Libya, his sister Aisha and brothers Hannibal and Muhammad managed to escape to Algeria in August. Saif al-Islam, one of the most high-profile Gadhafi children and the one U.S. officials saw as a possible heir to the dictatorship, was captured by rebel forces in southern Libya last month.