JEDDAH, 17 March 2004 — Former National Commercial Bank Chairman Khaled Bin Mahfouz and Nimir Petroleum have won a landmark libel action against publisher Pluto Press and author Michael Griffin in the High Court in London.
The suit follows publication of a revised edition of the book “Reaping the Whirlwind”, in which Griffin alleged Bin Mahfouz and Nimir Petroleum funded Osama Bin Laden’s and Al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities.
According to a statement read in open court, the author said Bin Mahfouz “transferred funds used to finance Al-Qaeda attacks including the 1995 assassination attempt on President Mubarak of Egypt (and that) those transfers were discovered as a result of a Saudi government audit of National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia.”
He also alleged Bin Mahfouz had been dismissed from NCB for funding terrorism, and had been stripped of his Saudi passport and confined to a military hospital by the Saudi authorities.
The book further alleged that Nimir Petroleum, a London-based oil company owned by Bin Mahfouz’ sons, was owned by “a funder and supporter of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and was a party to negotiations with the Taleban in connection with an oil pipeline to be built across Afghanistan,” according to the statement.
In Monday’s hearing in the High Court, the publisher and author accepted that there was no truth in any of these allegations.
“There was never any secret audit of National Commercial Bank which uncovered any transfers by Sheikh Khaled Bin Mahfouz which supported terrorism, nor has the Saudi government ever taken any action against Sheikh Khaled Bin Mahfouz to punish him for alleged links to terrorism,” the statement said.
The defendants “sincerely apologize to Sheikh Khaled Bin Mahfouz and Nimir Petroleum for the grave distress and embarrassment caused to them as a result of the wholly untrue and unjustified allegations made in” the book, according to their solicitor.
Griffin and Pluto Press agreed to destroy all unsold copies of the book, to undertake not to repeat the allegations, and to publish an apology on www.plutobooks.com, in the Bookseller magazine and in the British Institute of Middle East Studies Newsletter.
The publisher and author will pay the damages as well as the plaintiffs’ legal costs. The parties have agreed that the amount of damages is to be kept confidential.
Bin Mahfouz and Nimir Petroleum “welcome this settlement,” said Laurence Harris, partner at Kendall Freeman solicitors acting for the plaintiffs. When the book was published they “had no choice but to bring proceedings to put to rest these very serious and false allegations. They are pleased that their reputations have been vindicated and that Pluto Press and Michael Griffin have recognized there was no truth whatsoever in the allegations,” he said.
Harris added they would donate the “substantial damages” to UNICEF.
Following a similar recent settlement involving the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Bin Mahfouz is pursuing libel proceedings in London against the author Jean Charles Brisard over a book that makes similar allegations.
Bin Mahfouz recently obtained a judgment against Brisard and two companies he owns in another libel action.