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Lebanon charges Gaddafi son in decades-old kidnap case

Hannibal Gaddafi was charged with 'withholding information on the disappearance of Shia imam Mussa Sadr' in 1978 during a visit to Libya
A billboard bearing a picture of missing Lebanese Shia religious leader Mussa Sadr is pictured in the southern Beirut suburb of Shiyah on 24 February 2011 (AFP)

Lebanese authorities on Monday charged Hannibal Gaddafi, the high-living son of the late Libyan dictator, with withholding information about a missing Lebanese Shia cleric, judicial sources told AFP.

Gaddafi was kidnapped on Friday by an unknown armed group in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley, but was freed by police several hours later and taken in for questioning, security sources said.

On Monday he was interrogated for more than three hours by judicial investigators, who charged him with "withholding information on the disappearance of Shia imam Mussa Sadr".

Sadr went missing in 1978 during an official visit to Libya, along with an aide and a journalist. 

Beirut blamed the disappearances on longtime Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, and the Gaddafi family was branded persona non grata by Lebanon, especially among members of the Shia Muslim community. 

Gaddafi's lawyer Shadi Hussein, speaking to AFP outside the courtroom, said the Libyan businessman was charged because "the crime is still ongoing, since those kidnapped" remain missing. 

"And because the charged man is one of the sons of the main accused in this case, Muammar Gaddafi," Hussein added. 

According to an AFP journalist at the scene, Gaddafi had two black eyes and was limping. 

His medium-length hair was slicked back, and he was allowed to speak to his Lebanese wife Aline Skaf by phone for a few minutes, although her location was not disclosed. 

Gaddafi's mysterious abduction on Friday evidently occurred in the Bekaa "while he was travelling from Syria", a security source told AFP. 

Bekaa is an eastern stronghold of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah.

The lavish lifestyles of Gaddafi's family and entourage helped fuel the anger in Libya that sparked the protests that led eventually to the strongman's overthrow and killing in 2011.

That year, as the dictator was battling the uprising against him, a private jet carrying Skaf was refused permission to land at Beirut airport.

An official said at the time that acting transport minister Ghazi Aridi had asked for a detailed passenger manifest and that his request was rejected by the Libyans.

Two other sons of the late dictator, Saadi and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam, are in detention in Libya.

Three more were killed during the Libyan revolt.