LSE's 'mistakes were legion' in Libyan dealings, Woolf finds

‘Damning’ report criticises governance, but Saif Gaddafi likely to keep PhD. David Matthews writes

December 1, 2011

An investigation by the former Lord Chief Justice into links between the London School of Economics and deposed Libyan dictator Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s regime has reached “damning” conclusions.

The highly critical investigation, carried out by Lord Woolf, was ordered in March after attention fell on multiple links between the school and the Libyan dictatorship following the killing of hundreds of protesters in the early stages of the uprising in the Middle Eastern state.

The report was due to be released on 30 November, after Times Higher Education had gone to press, but it is understood to conclude that:

• Failures of governance, management and communication meant that members of the LSE council were not fully informed of fears that a £1.5 million donation from the Gaddafi regime could have been funded by bribes from Western companies seeking Libyan contracts

• Sir Howard Davies, the former director of the school who resigned at the height of the scandal in March, was ultimately responsible for this failure to fully inform the council

• There was no one at the LSE keeping track of the institution’s many connections with the Gaddafi regime, which “grew like Topsy”

• The acceptance of a £2.2 million contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants was “clearly of merit” and a service the school should be performing

• Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Colonel Gaddafi’s son, was receiving more help with his PhD than the LSE was aware of, including an arrangement whereby he would dictate his thesis to advisers who would then write it up.

The allegation that Dr Gaddafi’s doctorate was plagiarised was investigated separately by the University of London, but THE understands that it has not found enough evidence of ghostwriting to withdraw the award. It is not clear whether the University of London report will be published.

The Woolf report is particularly critical of the way a £1.5 million gift from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) was presented to the LSE’s council in 2009, when the donation was approved.

“The mistakes in presenting the gift to council were legion,” it concludes.

An internal report by the university’s development council uncovered fears that the gift was funded by recycling bribes paid by Western companies in the hope of winning contracts in Libya, but this information was not fully passed on to the council.

The case for accepting the gift in October 2009 was made by David Held, Dr Gaddafi’s informal academic adviser. He joined the GICDF board that summer, but stepped down on the LSE council’s advice. Professor Held is criticised by Lord Woolf for this conflict of interest.

Exactly who was responsible for failing to fully transmit concerns over the donation to the LSE council is a grey area in the report, which is believed not to have established who knew about the concerns and when.

Judith Rees, interim director of the LSE, writes in this week’s THE that “on the way in which we handled the donation from the GICDF, Lord Woolf is damning”.

“We have already been working on an up-to-date policy, with a clear procedure for scrutiny and clear lines of responsibility as set out by Woolf,” she says.

She adds that the report marks a “sad day” for the school and the episode “will raise questions for the higher education sector as a whole”.

The Woolf report also examines the LSE’s dealings with Dr Gaddafi as a doctoral candidate. Despite concerns over the level of help that Dr Gaddafi was given, the report concludes that it was not wrong for him to hire the US lobbying firm Monitor Group to conduct more than 100 interviews for his doctorate, as it is not unknown for students to commission research.

However, governance was not sufficiently joined up, and this meant that the school failed to “connect the dots” when several concerns were raised over the level of help Dr Gaddafi was receiving with his PhD.

Dr Gaddafi was “not in a good position to write a dissertation with the usual amount of supervision, but he could do so with extra teaching”, the report says.

He was initially rejected as a doctoral student by the LSE’s department of government, but the department of philosophy proved willing to accept his application and to give him extra supervision.

Addressing this point, the report recommends that all departments at the institution should have the same admissions procedures.

It also finds that Dr Gaddafi was taking his PhD seriously, and does not conclude that his acceptance as a student came with any expectation of a donation.

Dr Gaddafi, who delivered his thesis in 2007, is currently in the captivity of the new Libyan government, and is reported to be suffering from gangrene in his right hand. He is expected to be charged with “crimes against humanity” and to stand trial in Libya.

The Woolf report also looks into the matter of £30,700 paid to the university in return for advice given in 2007 by Sir Howard on how to invest Libya’s sovereign wealth fund.

On this count, the investigation concludes that the former director needed to consider carefully how to avoid outside conflicts of interest.

The Woolf report is not wholly critical of the LSE, and it partially exonerates the institution in some areas.

It finds that despite the failings, LSE staff acted in what they believed to be the best interests of the school.

A £2.2 million contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants was “clearly of merit” and went through stricter due diligence than the £1.5 million donation, the report finds.

However, it was brokered by Dr Gaddafi while he was still a doctoral student. To prevent such a situation recurring, Lord Woolf recommends that the LSE expand its policy of not accepting donations from current students to cover transactions such as commercial contracts.

A notorious video-link lecture by Colonel Gaddafi in December 2010 in which a message from Sir Howard told him that he was “most welcome”, and the dictator proceeded to denounce claims that Libya masterminded the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication”, was deemed to be legitimate, as students were free to question him.

There was also no criticism of the decision to allow Dr Gaddafi to give a Ralph Miliband Programme lecture at the LSE in May 2010.

The LSE has accepted all 15 of Lord Woolf’s recommendations and a subcommittee of its council will now look into how it will implement a code of ethics.

Professor Rees has told all departmental heads that they should cease to solicit donations, a role that should instead be handled by the LSE’s development office.

Friends with benefits: ‘leading brand’ institutions and dictators’ deep pockets

Even after the Arab Spring erupted earlier this year, UK universities have continued to take major donations from regimes accused of repression. At the end of March, Durham University announced that it would accept a £2.5 million personal gift from Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, then prime minister of Kuwait.

But the atmosphere following the UK’s 2004 rapprochement with the Gaddafi regime was different, according to Joanna Motion, a partner at fundraising consultants More Partnership and former vice-president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. “There was a sense that things had changed in Libya,” she said.

Since the LSE scandal broke in February, universities have looked carefully at their own donations processes amid the media “firestorm”, she added.

But it would be a pity, Ms Motion said, if the incident dissuaded universities from encouraging philanthropy. “If you rule out vast swathes of the world as unacceptable [as a source of donations], this is pulling the duvet over your head.”

But Christopher Davidson, reader in Middle East politics at Durham, said institutions should not be excused for their willingness to follow Tony Blair to Gaddafi’s tent. “A university shouldn’t necessarily follow the government of the day. A university should know better,” he said.

Furthermore, the donations received are small in comparison to the risks involved, he argued. “A few million pounds in donations have been leveraged against reputations built up over hundreds of years.”

What UK universities are involved in, he said, is essentially a “laundering of image” for autocrats, who “boost their credentials by being associated with leading brands…We can’t expect all countries to be representative democracies. But there are only about 10 to 20 countries that consistently get the worst human rights records and they are the biggest donors to UK universities.”

This is no accident, Dr Davidson said, since it is the worst offenders that most need to burnish their image.

How the mighty have fallen: key players and events in the LSE’s Libya scandal

August 2006: Following an interview with Mu’ammer Gaddafi organised by the US lobbying firm Monitor Group, former LSE director Anthony Giddens writes a largely complimentary piece about the dictator in the New Statesman.

September 2007: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the dictator’s son, submits his PhD thesis, “The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions”, to the LSE. It is later alleged to contain 18 separate instances of plagiarism.

June 2009: The LSE’s council agrees to accept £1.5 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, raised from donations from private companies, to fund research into the region.

October 2009: After the gloating reaction of the Libyan regime to the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the LSE council reviews the gift, but again decides to accept it.

25 May 2010: Saif Gaddafi delivers a Ralph Miliband Programme lecture at the LSE on “Libya: Past, Present, and Future”.

2 December 2010: The LSE hosts a video link-up with Mu’ammer Gaddafi, who is told he is “most welcome” in a message from LSE director Sir Howard Davies, and is referred to as “brother leader”.

20 February 2011: Saif Gaddafi denounces protesters against the regime on Libyan state TV, warning that “rivers of blood” will flow if the uprising does not stop. He vows to fight to the “last bullet”.

21 February 2011: The LSE announces that it is severing ties with the Gaddafi regime after the government kills about 200 protesters.

3 March 2011: Sir Howard resigns. Lord Woolf is asked by the LSE to lead an investigation into its links with Libya. The University of London commissions a separate inquiry into allegations of plagiarism by Saif Gaddafi.

2 May 2011: Judith Rees is named interim director of the school following the departure of Sir Howard.

1 November 2011: David Held, often called an “informal academic adviser” to Saif Gaddafi and a proponent of the 2009 gift, will leave the LSE at the end of 2011 for a senior Durham University post.

24 November 2011: Craig Calhoun, currently professor of sociology at New York University, is named as the new director of the LSE.

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