The LSE has accepted a donation from a Libyan non-governmental organisation headed by Saif Al Islam Al Gaddafi, LSE alumnus and son of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The donation from Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) amounted to £1.5 million and was intended to support LSE Global Governance.
In a press release from the School, it was stated that LSE Global Governance “has produced pioneering work on global governance, shifting debate away from the role of individual governments in global affairs to far-reaching analysis of the framework of principles, rules and laws necessary to tackle global problems”.
“This donation will support us as we work to increase understanding of global problems and to encourage interaction between academics and policy makers,” said Professor David Held, a co-director of the centre along with Professors Mary Kaldor and Danny Quah in the press release. “It is a generous donation from an NGO committed to the promotion of civil society and the development of democracy.”
The GICDF “carries out developmental and humanitarian activities in the social, economic, cultural and human rights fields”, as described on their website. It has been praised in particular for its work in supporting human rights for Libyan citizens.
In 2004 Amnesty wrote that the “organisation has made strong calls for long-term human rights violations, including deaths in custody, to be addressed.” This appears to tally with arguments made by Professor David Held in the Council meeting on the Foundation’s donation where he argued that the Foundation’s stance on both democracy and human rights had sometimes led to disagreement with the Libyan state but nonetheless had enjoyed success in areas such as penal reform.
LSE Council, which is the Governing Body of the School, met twice to discuss and subsequently approve the donation.
In the first meeting on 23rd June 2009 which resolved to accept the donation, the matter was raised by Professor Held. It was noted in the minutes that “no academic constraints had been placed on the use of the gift, although Mr Gaddafi had requested Professor Held’s assistance in developing a Centre for Democracy and Civil Society in Tripoli”, “Libya’s relationship with the West had improved in recent years, and that Saif Gaddafi was considered by many to be a reformer”. Furthermore, “the gift would not be funded by the Libyan State or regime”, and “that the principal risk of acceptance was reputational”.
It was further noted that the Development Committee whose role is to “oversee the fundraising programme at LSE and provide volunteer leadership for strategy, identification and solicitation of significant gift to the School”, had a clear majority in favour of accepting the donation, and “due diligence work had been undertaken to ensure the probity of the Foundation”.
Victor Dahdaleh, a governor of the LSE, on whom the Beaver reported was involved for alleged involvement in bribery and fraud against the Bahraini Royal Family, also spoke of “the high regard in which [senior politicians and opinion formers in the Gulf region] held Saif Gaddafi”.
Dahdaleh is currently under investigation by US authorities for his part in a fraud case involving Alcoa, the world’s largest supplier of alumina, for whom he worked as an agent. In March 2008 Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) filed a civil suit against Alcoa claiming that the company had overcharged for its alumina and used the earnings to bribe Bahraini public officials. Dahdaleh was named as one of the defendants for allegedly acting as a go between for Alcoa and the public officials who were to be bribed, a claim Dahdaleh strongly denies.
The case has currently been put on hold until an investigation by the US department of justice has been completed.
LSESU General Secretary Aled Dilwyn Fisher had attended the meeting but did not possess prior knowledge of the Foundation and wished to “make enquiries before exercising judgement”. Fisher told The Beaver that he feels this highlights the need for student representation on the Development Committee, as he wasn’t able to consult students’ opinions and thus not adequately representing their interests on such matters.
Professor Held was invited to join the Council of Trustees of GICDF in an individual capacity afterwards, but resigned after concerns about perceived conflict of interests were raised at a Council meeting on 20th October 2009.
In the same meeting, a letter from Emeritus Professor Fred Halliday entitled “LSE and the Qaddafi Foundation: A Dissenting Note” which counselled against acceptance of the donation, was presented along with a collection of media reports on lines between the LSE and Libya. This was in light of the “widespread condemnation of Libya’s handling of the return of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi”.
Professor Held defended the decision to accept the gift as a matter for the LSE/Council, reinforcing what he had said in the prior meeting, and that “a public signing ceremony had been undertaken, and that a u-turn at this juncture might affect the School’s relations with Libya and cause personal embarrassment to the Chairman of the Foundation, Dr Saif al-Islam Gaddafi”.
He continued: “the views espoused by Professor Halliday were not necessarily shared by all in the academic community” and “having trawled traditional media and the blogosphere, no evidence had been found that LSE’s links with Libya had attracted criticism, despite the ‘storm created by the Al-Megrahi affair”.
However, in the discussion that followed, it was raised that “the timing of the original discussion” might have been why beyond Professor Halliday, no other member of the School community had queried the decision. Further, LSE Enterprise had provided professional training for Libyan officials, which was said to have “operated with complete independence and their work had been positively received by others, including the School’s supporters in the United States”.
According to Professor Held, the £1.5 million donation “represented less than 20% of the operating costs of the Centre for Global Governance”.
It was resolved that “the totality of the School’s relationship with, and work in Libya needed to be carefully monitored and handled to avoid misunderstanding of the School’s position”.
This is not the first time that the School has been connected to Libya: LSE Director Howard Davies was an economic envoy to Libya at the request of the UK Government.