Britain's Foreign Office approached a professor at the prestigious University of Oxford to admit Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif Al-Islam as a student, The Guardian reports. The revelation comes as part of an investigation by former lord chief justice Woolf into the ties between the London School of Economics -- another British university -- and the former Libyan regime.
The inquiry focuses on Gaddafi's admittance to the London School of Economics, and includes a testimony from Professor FitzGerald, head of the Department of International Development at Oxford. FitzGerald reportedly told the inquiry that in the spring of 2002, he was contacted by a senior civil servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth office to enquire if the school could admit Gaddafi's son for a Master's program in Development Economics. "It was made clear," FitzGerald told Woolf, "that the FCO would appreciate help in this case since Libya was opening up to the West again."
After the start of the uprising in Libya, the London School of Economics found itself increasingly criticized for its ties to Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Colonel Gaddafi's son and heir-apparent. In March 2011, when the Libyan uprising gained strength and the Gaddafi family brutally tried to oppress the protests, the school commissioned an investigation into its ties with the North African country. Sir Howard Davies, then director, handed in his resignation.
By admitting Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and by accepting a donation from his charity foundation, the London school exposed itself to "a significant degree of risk," the report concludes. "The school established, in an incremental and piecemeal fashion, a relationship with Libya... The links were allowed to grow, unchecked and to a degree unnoticed, until their effect was overwhelming."
Sir Woolf writes that Saif Al-Islam was considered a "risky candidate" when he was first considered for the school's Master's program. Yet he was accepted -- despite his weak English skills and "an extremely underdeveloped sense of how to think and reason analytically" -- because of what the school perceived as Gaddafi's unique opportunity to bring social change in Libya. Saif worked closely together with the school's staff and received "a degree of assistance with his academic work far beyond that which would be available to most students," the report reads. It appeared furthermore unclear if the colonel's son relied on the help from assistants and embassy personell for his papers and dissertation.
The Woolf report also focuses on a £1.5 million donation promised to LSE's Centre for Global Governance by Gaddafi's International Charity and Development Foundation. The donation was promised in July 2009, after Professor David Held, Co-Director of the Centre, solicited the gift. The report reveals that LSE was unable to determine where the money donated to the school originated from. Saif told one of the professors involved in the review process that the millions were donated by BP, British Gas and Shell. However, the university never received confirmation from the companies that they indeed donated the money. "Saif's word alone was relied upon," the report says.
The LSE held other ties to Libya. Sir Howard Davies, Director of the school, was appointed the prime minister's economic envoy to Libya. He recognized this was in part because Saif's presence at the school had given the LSE a higher profile in Libya, according to the report. Sir Howard also served on the advisory bord of the Libyan Investment Authority, the country's sovereign wealth fund. In addition, LSE Enterprise, the school's commercial subsidiary, won a £2.2 million contract to train Libyan civil servants, according to the report, following a request made by an assistant to Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. Sir Howard resigned over the controversy in March 2012.
According to the BBC, the LSE says it accepts all of Lord Woolf's recommendations.
Read the Sir Woolf's full report here.