Sunday, August 05, 2007

A court-phobic publisher

A short note on one issue that still hasn't gone away -- Charlie Haughey's personal passports-for-sale program in the 1990s. In an old post we linked to this story mentioning one particular recipient. Anyway, from a surprisingly readable Mark Steyn column --

Who is Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz? Well, he's a very wealthy and influential Saudi. Big deal, you say. Is there any other kind? Yes, but even by the standards of very wealthy and influential Saudis, this guy is plugged in: He was the personal banker to the Saudi royal family and head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, until he sold it to the Saudi government. He has a swanky pad in London and an Irish passport and multiple U.S. business connections, including to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

So there's that passport Charlie sold to him again. Now we thought we'd read somewhere that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs had revoked all the passports associated with that deal, as the residency requirement was never met, but it's not an easy thing to figure out.

Steyn's point is that bin Mahfouz is engaging in "libel chill", using the threat of a libel action against Cambridge University Press to get it pull its book Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert Collins. This follows an earlier legal action against Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil -- How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which has restricted the book's availability outside the USA.

There is however another oblique Irish angle to the case which makes us wonder if Cambridge University Press is being too timid. Charlie Haughey's successor Albert Reynolds is the unwilling creator of the so-called Reynolds defence in libel actions in English courts, which opens up a potentially broad public interest defence for controversial claims, even ones that turn out to be factually wrong. The defence has already been used successfully in another Saudi-links-to-terrorism in London. So there's a lingering sense that there's more to the story about CUP's attitude to the book.

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