Journalists watch as the judges (unseen), question Seif al-Islam, the son of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, broadcasted live from inside a room in Tripoli in 2014. Picture: Mahmud Turkia

London -

Four years after he was captured trying to flee the country, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, 43, has been sentenced to death by firing squad, having been convicted of murder and inciting genocide during Libya’s 2011 civil war.

The despot’s son is unlikely to be executed immediately due to the political chaos in his homeland.

But the news revives uncomfortable questions about the nature of his relationship with former Prime Minister Tony Blair..

Will Saif al-Islam Gaddafi take to the grave what he knows about the politicians and businessmen who courted him and his family?

Chief among them, of course, was Tony Blair, who helped Saif with his philosophy PhD thesis during his controversial student days at the London School of Economics (LSE) - an institution later revealed to have accepted hundreds of thousands in “donations” from Saif’s charitable foundation and the Gaddafi clan.

As Prime Minister, Tony Blair became acquainted with him soon after the young man was appointed by his father, the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in 2001, to act as the public, modern face of his country while Gaddafi senior lived in a Bedouin tent in his compound in Tripoli on the edge of the Sahara.

Educated at university in Libya and Vienna, Saif began visiting London regularly in 2002, setting up his foundation and pursuing his other interests of clubbing, casinos and womanising.

He lived in a £10 million home in North Hampstead, complete with a suede-lined cinema and private swimming pool, dined at China Tang, a restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel, and bought rounds of drinks at Annabel’s nightclub.

The playboy, seen as a potential heir to the throne in Libya, was also welcomed at the salons of the rich and powerful - particularly following the “deal in the desert” of 2004 in which Colonel Gaddafi was persuaded to give up his chemical weapons or face military action.

Even before that deal was struck, Saif had sat down in the House of Lords to a lunch of smoked salmon and Dover sole with Lord Levy, Blair’s sometime Middle East envoy and tennis partner, and Sir Nigel Sheinwald, then Blair’s senior foreign policy adviser.

Prince Andrew played host to him at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Saif’s 37th birthday was held at an opulent nightclub and marina in Montenegro and attended by billionaires such as his friend, the banker Nat Rothschild, and Oleg Deripaska, the metals magnate and friend of Peter Mandelson.

He visited Rothschild’s villa in Corfu, too, meeting Mandelson there while the latter was Business Secretary.

The men met again at a glittering party at Waddesdon Manor, Rothschild’s country home in Oxfordshire.

It was amid this social whirl that Blair’s relationship with Saif developed.

Having brokered the desert deal, Blair was keen to open up Libya to British businessmen - and regarded Saif as the man to deal with.

Documents discovered in the Libyan capital after Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall revealed how close the relationship was between Blair and Saif.

The then Prime Minister addressed him warmly as “Engineer Saif”, while he called Blair a “close, personal friend”.

So CLOSE, in fact, that Blair would later prove influential in winning BP a £600 million Libyan oil contract from Gaddafi’s regime, despite its appalling human rights record and torture of dissidents.

As for the PhD thesis, Saif sent his 400-page paper to Blair seeking feedback.

The then PM wrote a lengthy response, pointing out areas Saif might like to include, such as “how to prevent corruption in oil-rich nations” - bitterly ironic, considering Saif and his father are believed to have stolen £100 billion from Libya’s coffers.

The LSE went on to award Saif a much-prized doctorate even though there were allegations of plagiarism and shoddy work, and there was evidence Saif had spent thousands on extensive private tutoring.

Six weeks after his doctorate was confirmed, the LSE requested a £1.5 million donation to fund research into Libya and North Africa. The payment was later halted amid a public outcry.

How things changed after the war in Libya erupted in 2011.

Blair - by then out of office but working as a Middle East peace envoy - and other influential friends of Saif quickly sought to distance themselves from the Gaddafi clan and deny all knowledge of such close personal friendships.

Tony Blair’s spokesman claimed tersely: “For the record, Tony Blair has only met Saif Gaddafi twice; on both occasions, there were officials and staff present.”

For his part, Saif had abandoned his designer suits and nightclubs, to reappear in Libya as his father’s most rabid defender and vowing to slaughter “those rats”, as he called the rebels, when the uprising began in February 2011.

Living in his own home inside Gaddafi’s compound, with two pet tigers held in an adjacent pen, he was instrumental in plotting attempts to put down the uprising.

Saif was filmed in Libya standing on top of a vehicle, clutching a Heckler & Koch G36 automatic rifle, and urging Gaddafi fighters to “feast on a banquet of their enemies”.

Acting as the country’s de facto prime minister during the protests ahead of the civil war, he stood accused of ordering the shooting of hundreds of people marching against the Gaddafi regime.

Many of the allegations against Saif and his father involved their onslaught against Misrata, a rich port two hours’ drive from the family’s compound in Tripoli, where widespread crimes against humanity were committed.

I know; I was trapped in Misrata at the height of the siege when, under Saif’s command, his troops encircled the city and fired thousands of missiles into civilian areas, while his men used women and children as human shields to repel a fightback by rebels.

Among many horrors, I saw a baby ablaze after a home was hit by Grad rockets - the name means “hail” in Russian - killing three members of the same family, while rotting bodies littered the city’s streets.

Told by Saif that “Misrata is yours”, Gaddafi’s forces also attacked ambulances carrying the wounded, mortared hospitals and carried out mass rapes against women trapped alone inside the city.

As we know, the Gaddafi family lost the war.

The underground compound in Tripoli, where Saif and his brothers had grown up and where Tony Blair had once been a guest, was overrun by rebels on August 22.

Muammar Gaddafi fled and was captured two months later in Sirte, his home town.

He was tortured by rebels, sodomised with a rifle bayonet and shot in the head.

Meanwhile, a month later, Saif was captured trying to escape into neighbouring Niger by soldiers hunting him.

Disguised as a shepherd in old robes, with dirt rubbed on his face, he surrendered to rebel forces in the south of the country near Niger.

He had planned to live there with Saadi, his bisexual brother, who had already been granted asylum.

Saif was caught - and now faces death - as a result of Western intelligence agencies, believed to include Britain’s MI6, monitoring his satellite phone as he made two calls in quick succession before attempting to run for the border.

He initially told his captors he was “Abdul Salem, a camel keeper”, but was soon forced to admit his true identity and imprisoned in Zintan, a dusty town full of rows of non-descript, single-storey buildings.

There, Saif has been held for the past four years.

He sleeps on a mattress on the floor and is seldom allowed outside the prison, which is surrounded by armed guards.

Stung by international condemnation after mobile phone pictures appeared of Gaddafi’s gruesome last hours, Libyan officials have always insisted that Saif will face a court of law, rather than pay for his crimes with summary execution.

Throughout the eight-month Libyan war, I was told repeatedly by senior rebel commanders that Saif would be killed because he, more than any of the other sons, had the “poisoned blood” from his father.

Yet his captors in Zintan on Tuesday night declared they would not hand Saif over to the authorities in Tripoli, knowing their famous prisoner may be worth more alive than dead as warring rebels vie for power in a lawless land which has become a hotbed for Islamic State terrorists.

Perhaps for the sake of truth and justice, rather than vengeance, it would be better if Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was spared the firing squad in return for telling all that he knows - about everything, and everybody.

Though that might make life uncomfortable for Tony Blair and other old friends in the West.

Daily Mail