On the very same day that Saif Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator’s son, graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from the LSE, a “Gift Agreement” between LSE and Saif’s Foundation – relating to a donation of £1.5 million – was signed. Again and again, we hear of LSE’s zeal for “reputational damage to the School”. This was reputational damage at its finest.
After rumour upon rumour, the School finally agreed to put an end to media hysteria last April and appointed an inquiry, led by Lord Woolf, to uncover the details of the fetid business. The Report came out today and has laid bare the farce for all to see.
In April, LSE assured us that Saif’s Foundation – the one which donated £1.5 million to an LSE research centre – was an NGO unconnected to the Libyan state. This looks in doubt. Professor Halliday asserted that its NGO status is, “in all practical senses, a legal fiction”. He goes on:
The monies paid into the [foundation] come from foreign businesses wishing to do business, i.e. receive contracts, for work in Libya, most evidently in the oil and gas industries. These monies are, in fact, a form of down payment, indeed of taxation, paid to the Libyan state, in anticipation of the award of contracts. The funds of the [foundation] are, for this reason, to all extents and purposes, part of the Libyan state budget.
The professor wrote this to the LSE Council, the decision-making council of the School that was considering whether to accept the donation. The Council ignored his advice and pressed on.
Lord Woolf comments:
The source of the money for the donation which the LSE agreed to receive has never been established. […] On the available information the source of the donation could have been payments made to gain Saif’s favour. The funding was said to be coming from payments made to Saif’s foundation by foreign contractors operating in Libya. […] Why would foreign companies operating in Libya want to donate to the LSE through the conduit of Saif’s foundation?
Which companies would have made payments through Saif’s Foundation? This is the start of another farce. To begin with, Professor Held tells the Director of LSE, Howard Davies, that the money would come from the private sector, not from the Libyan state. Which companies? BP, Shell and British Gas are to be sponsors, Held tells the Director. (This is incorrect.)
The LSE Council meets up in June 2009. It is a shame that the Council is not notified of the companies, because the Chairman of the LSE Council is Peter Sutherland, who also happens to be the Chairman of BP. Were he to be informed of the companies, he would have told the Council of the “inherent unlikelihood” of his own company making a donation to Saif’s Foundation so it could make a donation to the LSE.
In September 2009, Held then is informed that 3 entirely different companies are the sponsors. For legal reasons, the Report does not specify them, but we know they consist of a Turkish company, an Italian company and a Scottish company. A note is prepared, detailing the profiles and inherent risks entailed with these companies. This note fails to reach the Council when it meets the second time.
The companies listed provoke interest in themselves. The Italian company was, at the time of the donation, “currently bidding for [a] construction” project in Tripoli. It was “found guilty of paying bribes to win contracts”. The heavily-redacted note in the Report also lists “trials”, “charges of fraud” and “mafia links”, but we know not to whom or to what these phrases refer. The profile of the Turkish company is also heavily redacted. The profile on the Scottish company refers to something which is “especially controversial following Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release”. I shall say no more.
This note, along with a second note detailing Saif’s Foundation and the risks involved in full, fail to appear in either Council meeting, despite the notes being written with the expressed purpose that they be presented at the LSE Council. The presentations were made instead by Professor Held, a character who was too intimately connected to Saif Gaddafi to properly make the case against accepting the gift.
The second LSE Council meeting is almost a parody in itself. The Council minutes state that “there were concerns about the reputational risk of rejecting the gift [my italics], having accepted it in the summer”. Oh what a scandal would have arisen if they had rejected it! Professor Held makes a statement on possible forthcoming embarrassments, saying that “a U-turn at this juncture might […] cause personal embarrassment to the Chairman of the foundation, Dr Saif al-Islam Gaddafi”. To avoid embarrassment, the Council voted to accept the gift.
The details on Saif’s PhD – and whether it was plagiarised or not – are inadequate to be able to state a conclusion. A separate panel is to determine this. Nevertheless, we can make some comments on the matter, given the findings in the Woolf Report. The Report notes that Saif was given too much outside assistance with his university work. It finds that not only Saif’s tutor, but another academic, expressed worries that some essays Saif submitted during his time at LSE were not his own work. We await the findings of the panel with interest.
I make one last remark on this subject. Regardless of the findings on the PhD, what the Report has disclosed is damning. We were at first assured by the School that the Libyan state was not making donations to LSE. It now appears it was likely – given the available evidence – that the money came from companies who wanted to receive contracts for work in Libya. If this is true, this is money that would have gone to the Libyan government, were Saif’s Foundation not to exist.
It is vital that the LSE does not receive money from foul dictatorships. Given what we know of the despotic Libyan regime, we should not even have considered accepted this money, whether it goes to charitable purposes or not. Au fond, a research centre founded by LSE would have added to the prestige of the School, and it is not ethical for the School to become more prestigious from dodgy funds donated by a brutally repressive despot.