JEDDAH, 14 January 2004 — Top businessman Khaled Bin Mahfouz has accepted undisclosed libel damages yesterday over a newspaper’s claim that he was the brother-in-law of Osama Bin Laden and had helped fund Al-Qaeda activities.
Laurence Harris, lawyer for 54-year-old Bin Mahfouz, told the High Court in London that there was no truth in the allegations published in The Mail on Sunday newspaper in October 2002.
Associated Newspapers, owners of The Mail on Sunday, Editor Peter Wright and journalist Graeme Beaton accepted that the allegations were unjustified and apologized.
The defendants agreed to pay substantial damages which Bin Mahfouz will donate to the UN children’s fund UNICEF, as well as his legal costs, the Press Association news agency said.
The British daily will publish an official apology in the paper on Sunday.
Bin Mahfouz won the court battle in less than a month after another prominent Saudi businessman, Mohammed Jameel, president of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group, won a libel case against the Wall Street Journal Europe.
Abdul Rahman, the son of Bin Mahfouz, said the British court verdict was a just answer to the smear campaign suffered by some Saudi families and personalities after Sept. 11, 2001.
He said the damages ordered by the court would be substantial. “What is more important is to tell the truth to the whole world after the publication of false information against Saudis and against our family,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News.
Harris said the article had also incorrectly alleged that Sheikh Khaled had been chief operating officer of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which collapsed amid claims of market-rigging in 1991.
Harris also said his client denied claims that he had been involved in manipulating markets, trafficking arms and supporting international terrorism.
Bin Mahfouz also disputed the newspaper’s contention that he was dismissed from the National Commercial Bank (NCB) for suspected illegal funding of Islamic charities which support terrorism, Harris added.
Harris said Bin Mahfouz was not Bin Laden’s brother-in-law and had never supported or funded his terrorist activities. Bin Mahfouz’s wife is Naila Kaaki.
“He was never a chief operating officer of BCCI and he resigned from NCB for health reasons and there was no audit report which uncovered illegal funding,” Harris said.
Sharief Siddiqui, senior lawyer for the Bin Mahfouz family, said the case had taken about a year.
Harris said Bin Mahfouz welcomed the settlement. “When the paper published the report there was no choice except to take legal against these falsifications,” he said.
“Bin Mahfouz is now happy that he has been cleared of such dangerous accusations. The Mail on Sunday admitted that all the accusations against the businessman were baseless,” Harris told Asharq Al-Awsat.