Tag Archives: Saif Gaddafi

LSE and Libya: the farce in full.

30 Nov

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.

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Niall Ferguson vs Jeremy Paxman: a tale of two Empires

17 Oct

Jeremy Paxman has recently been grimacing his way through a round of daytime talk shows, in order to promote his new book, Empire. There’s nothing like bemused frowning to boost the book sales, every publisher knows that. After watching Paxman scoff at Alex Jones for a bit, which must have been the highlight of my week – by the way, by “scoff”, I mean “derisively laugh at a One Show host’s existence”, not “stuff Alex Jones’ face quickly into his gob” – he then launched into a defence the British Empire.

Paxman was asked if the Empire was a Good Thing. He refused to answer the question. He said something along the lines of, “You cannot say it is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, it is just a Thing, and it just happened.” It is a curious answer, an answer worthy of Michael Howard. Yet it is an answer which most historians accept nowadays. Kwasi Kwarteng echoes the sentiment in his new book; as does Niall Ferguson.

Niall is the ultimate advocate of this view. His inventively-named book Empire is the imperial apologist’s Bible. While it condemns the most wicked excesses of imperialism, it revels most in totting up the good the British did. Ferguson writes a list of the Good Things including team sports, the idea of liberty and – at number one – the English language. So, to paraphrase: cricket, the dearth of liberty, and – at number one – irritating, irritating twangs. Unsurprisingly this didn’t persuade me.

Cricket is a god-awful game that was made purposefully Byzantine to make the cretins that play it feel they have some sort of noggin. Its pointless complexity somehow makes cricketers think they are less dunderheaded than footballers, as if cricket is some kind of Hegelian philosophy, some kind of Heisenbergian science, and not a game whose chief aim is, er, to thwack a ball with a bat. In the end, you are alone with a sunburnt neck on a pitch for three hours squatting, in the vain hope the ball to come vaguely near you. In the five-minute period when it does come your way, you either fall over apologising, or it socks you in the testicles. I cannot think of a more preposterous game.

Cricket is not any great accomplishment of mind. Nor is the feat of creating Canadian or New Zealand accents. The rest of Ferguson’s list is similarly ridiculous. The spread of Protestantism will not seem like a major achievement of the British Empire, unless your name is Martin Luther. But the silliest are these: the idea of liberty, and good government.

The former will sound hollow if you were one of the British Empire’s curmudgeonly subjects. In a democracy, it is easy to be a rebel: you mark a cross on a bit of paper and you can kick your rulers out. Empire is no democracy. Empire by definition is run from the centre and pays little attention to the whims and wishes of the periphery. As such, it is slightly more difficult to be a rebel. Sudanese rebels were bumped off because they disagreed with their rulers (and because, y’know, they might have been Muslim). A rebellion in India was averted by killing 379 of the trouble-makers in ten minutes. Assad would be proud of that.

As a consolation, Ferguson says that whenever the British acted despotically, there was always a “liberal critique” from within British society. Innocent citizens may have been shot, but, well, at least their families could read some Orwell. It’s a bit like urging families of massacred Libyans to read Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis on democratic institutions. Throughout Empire, Ferguson is keen to point out that it is wrong to compare British imperialists to Nazis or Soviets, because of the idea of liberty at the heart of the enterprise. I suppose that’s an achievement: at least we’re not Nazis.

The evidence Ferguson gives of good government is as follows: a lot of the subjects rallied round the British. Many who fought for the British in the Indian Mutiny and the American Revolution were natives. 1 in 6 of the British Army in World War One were Indian; the figure rises to 1 in 4 in World War Two. This is supposed to be evidence that the natives were grateful to their rulers. I am not convinced. Comrades of the USSR rallied round Stalin in World War Two, even though he was one of the most brutal dictators of the twentieth century. Many came out to mourn his death. Bountiful support does not necessarily mean good government.

Moreover it is often the rebels, not the contented citizens, that have most impact on a country’s politics. The future of Zimbabwe changed forever because of the antipathy of one rebel – Robert Mugabe. While we cannot say the British are responsible for Mugabe’s brutality, it is fair to say that foreign occupation inevitably breeds discontent. This is particularly true in places like Zimbabwe, where there was such a perceived unfairness in how the rulers treated the citizens, and where there was no democratic accountability. These things can only give credence to a Marxist nutjob’s hostility. Perhaps an uprising was only inevitable.

Ferguson’s Empire and Paxman’s Empire are both thoroughly well-written, absorbing, pulse-racing, clear-headed accounts of British imperialism. The latter is clear, concise and full of hilariously sardonic Paxman-isms. The former is simply a masterpiece. What is wrong is not the description, but the ethics. There is no will to say, even on balance, imperialism is a bad thing. Instead, there is a curious condemnation of the sheer ability to make a judgement. This helps no-one.