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The Saudi Billionaire vs. Cambridge University Press
On April 3, 2007 Kevin Taylor, Intellectual Property Manager for the Cambridge University Press (CUP), contacted Millard Burr and myself that the solicitors for Shaykh Khalid bin Mahfouz, Kendall Freeman, had informed CUP of eleven "allegations of defamation" in our book Alms for Jihad: Charities and Terrorism in the Islamic World and requested a response. On April 20 CUP received our seventeen page "robust defence," but it soon became apparent that CUP had decided not to defend Alms for Jihad given "knowledge of claims from previous litigation" and that "the top-line allegations of defamation made against us by bin Mahfouz are sustainable and cannot be successfully defended …certainly not in the English courts, which is where the current action arises."
Of the eleven points of alleged defamation "we [CUP] could defend ourselves against some of his individual allegations…which, as you say could hardly be deemed defamatory on its own," but on pp. 51-52 where you use the phrase " 'The twenty supporters of Al Qaeda' followed by the Golden Chain references…is defamatory of him under English law.." The Golden Chain was a list of twenty wealthy Saudi donors to al-Qa'ida which included the name "Mahfouz" on a computer disk seized during a raid by the Bosnian police and U.S. security agents of the Sarajevo office of the Saudi charity, the Benevolent International Foundation (Bosanska Idealna Futura, BIF).
On May 9, 2007 CUP agreed to virtually all of the Shaykh's demands to stop sale of the book, destroy all "existing copies," prepare a letter of apology, and make a "payment to charity" for damages and contribute to legal costs. After further negotiations the press also agreed, on June 20, 2007, to request 280 libraries around the world to withdraw the book or insert an erratum slip. During these three months of negotiations Millard and I had naively assumed that, as authors, we were automatically a party to any settlement but were now informed we "are out of jurisdiction" so that CUP had to ask "whether of not they [the authors] wish to join in any settlement with your client [Mahfouz]." On 30 July 2007 Mr. Justice Eady in the London High Court accepted the abject surrender of CUP which promptly pulped 2,340 existing copies of Alms for Jihad, sent letters to the relevant libraries to do the same or insert an errata sheet, issued a public apology, and paid costs and damages.
The crux of this sordid and sorry saga lies firmly in the existing English libel law which is very narrow and restrictive compared to its counterpart in the Untied States with a long history and precedent of "good faith" protected by the First Amendment, absent in English jurisprudence. In effect, CUP was not prepared to embark on a long and very expensive litigation it could not possibly win under English libel law in the English High Court, known to journalists as the "Club Med for Libel Tourists." Laurence Harris of Kendall Freeman was quite candid. "Our client [Shaykh] Mahfouz chose to complain to Cambridge University Press about the book because the book was published in this jurisdiction by them" where he had previously threatened to "sue some 36 U.S. and U.K. publishers and authors" and in which Shaykh Mahfouz had previously won three suits for the same charges of his alleged financing of terrorism. Even Justice Eady's pious pronouncements about "the importance of freedom of speech" were of little relevance before the weight, or lack thereof, in English libel law he rigorously enforced.
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