Entertaining Qaddafi

Yesterday we remembered Sting‘s ignominious 2009 performance in Uzbekistan. Today we’re going to look at a few other megarich celebrities who sold out their ethics to the late, unlamented Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for a mess of pottage.

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Muammar Qaddafi

First, let’s back to 2006, when Lionel Richie flew to Libya to perform for over 1000 officials. The price tag? A cool $5 million. The occasion? The 20th anniversary of U.S. air strikes in which dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter Hana was one of 40 people killed. The event was billed as “Hana Peace Day.” “Hana would be happy tonight!” said Richie during his performance. “This night is a wonderful honor for Hana, whose name is linked to peace.”

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Lionel Richie (left) performing in Libya

Richie’s arrival, according to one account, “was greeted with the rapture befitting a visiting deity. His hands had been washed in rosewater, he’d been accorded the honorific ‘Brother.’” He told a press conference in Tripoli that his presence in Libya was a ‘historic event,’” and that he’d decided to take part in the event “because ‘music unites people.’” At the concert, he introduced his set by telling the audience he was honored to be in Libya, by thanking them for their “unbelievable” hospitality, and by sending out a message to the world that he recommended a visit to “this beautiful world in Libya.”

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Aisha Qaddafi

The Tripoli Post quoted at length from comments made by Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha at the beginning of the concert. After calling for a moment of silence for “our martyrs who were killed at the hands of the enemies of peace,” Aisha recalled that on the day of the U.S. bombing she’d awakened “to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers. My memory [will] never forget, nor history will ever erase it. But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight. Yes for peace, no for destruction.”

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José Carreras

The concert, noted the Post, “ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of the US humanitarian pop anthem ‘We are the world.’”

Richie wasn’t alone in accepting the Qaddafi regime’s invitation. Appearing on the same stage that night were Spanish opera singers José Carreras and Ofelia Sala.

The next year, the Qaddafis continued to shell out sizable sums for top-drawer showbiz figures. Singer Nelly Furtado got $1 million from the regime for putting on a private 45-minute show at a hotel in Italy; in 2011, after this gig was exposed in the media, she tweeted “I am going to donate the $.”

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Usher

In the same year, Wikileaks cables revealed that several other stars had raked in impressive sums for entertaining the Qaddafi family. Beyonce responded by announcing that she’d be contributing to Haitian earthquake relief the fee she’d earned for a New Year’s Day 2009 bash on St. Bart’s. Mariah Carey, who’d received $1 million to sing four songs for the Qaddafis around the same time, said she’d been “naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for” and pronounced herself “embarrassed to have participated in this mess.” Other names on the infamous list included Usher and 50 Cent – neither of whom publicly expressed remorse or promised to give away their ill-gotten gains.

Sullying the ivory tower

Campus Beauty shotsA few decades ago, American university campuses were arguably the freest places in the country – oases of liberty where even the most challenging and unorthodox ideas could get a fair hearing and be earnestly and vigorously debated. In recent years, however, that freedom has been eroded by “speech codes” supposedly intended to protect members of certain groups from offense. Speakers whose views are considered politically incorrect have been disinvited. During the last year or so, many students have complained about what they call “microaggressions” – gestures or statements that unintentionally give offense on an admittedly minor level but that nonetheless, they argue, need to be silenced.

All this policing of speech on American campuses has helped make them considerably less free than they used to be, and has been widely criticized. But another threat to the freedom of American universities – and their British counterparts, too – has drawn somewhat less attention. We’re talking about the morally questionable ties that college administrators, eager to rake in foreign money, have forged with undemocratic governments around the globe.

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Shaun Tan

Three years ago, Shaun Tan, who at the time was an International Relations student at Yale, published a highly illuminating article, aptly entitled “Dangerous Liaisons,” about this phenomenon. The article should have appeared in a high-profile place like the New York Times Magazine, and should have sparked national debate; unfortunately, it was posted at The Politic, a website written by and for students at Yale.

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Sir Howard Davies

Tan served up a raft of eye-popping anecdotes. In 2011, for example, Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics, “resigned in disgrace” when the media uncovered lucrative deals he’d made on behalf of the LSE with the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Tan noted that LSE, sniffing out the possibility of a big payday, had accepted Qaddafi’s son Saif as a Ph.D. student “despite his poor English skills and weak academic record,” and had accorded him “special privileges, including special assistance from professors and permission to use a personal assistant to help him with his thesis.”

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Anti-Qaddafi protest at LSE

In return, LSE cashed in, receiving “a $2.5 million donation from the Gaddafi Foundation in 2008, as well as a $3.5 million contract for a special exchange program to train Libyan bureaucrats.” LSE even hosted “a live video-link conference” with Colonel Qaddafi himself, who

took the opportunity to denounce the Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication” of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, whilst the LSE moderator addressed him as “Brother Leader” and “the world’s longest-serving national leader.” At the end of his speech, Gaddafi was presented with a LSE baseball cap as a gift.

But we’re just warming up. More tomorrow.

Qaddafi, Mugabe, and other friends of Dan Och

 

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we took a brief introductory look at ethically challenged hedge funder Daniel Och, who’s had more than his share of brushes with the law, both foreign and domestic. Some of the many legal actions against Och have been triggered by his transactions with iniquitous regimes – transactions that even his profit-hungry employees, investors, and shareholders found distasteful. Let’s start with Zimbabwe’s gangster president, Robert Mugabe. In 2008, while U.S. authorities, in the name of human rights, were striving to isolate Mugabe financially from the rest of the world, Och’s firm, Och-Ziff Capital Management, and a handful of equally venal confederates gave the dictator $100 million for platinum-mining rights. Shortly afterwards, Och provided 75% of the funding, or $150 million, for a Zimbabwean mining enterprise. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned one of Och-Ziff’s accomplices in these operations, while both the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Och-Ziff.

Several sources indicate that the money Och stuffed in Mugabe’s pockets enabled the despot, whose government had been bankrupt, to steal the 2008 Zimbabwean election – because he was able to use the cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” One commentator described the deal this way: Och “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Another source calls it “surprising that Och-Ziff was willing to finance the Zimbabwean loan despite the likelihood that Mugabe, whom Western governments opposed implacably, would use it to fuel repression.” People who know Och, however, weren’t surprised.

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Muammar Qaddafi

Then there’s Muammar Qaddafi, the late, unlamented leader of Libya, from whose sovereign-wealth fund Och accepted a $300 million investment – a breach of U.S. anti-bribery laws. Last December, it was reported that U.S. investigators were probing Och’s Libya deals, with a focus on “a multimillion-dollar payment…they believe was funneled in part to a friend of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son.”

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Daniel S. Och

Och has also been deeply involved with the not-so-democratic Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), investing in a mining scheme to the tune of some $234 million – a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that brought subpoenas from both the SEC and the Department of Justice. Also, in collaboration with a shady offshore firm, Och-Ziff made a secret loan to Guinea that a former Guinean minister described as “a bribe” – which might put it, too, at odds with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As of last August, Och-Ziff was under investigation for its deals with both Zimbabwe and the DRC, including allegations that it had deliberately and illegally tried to cover its dirty tracks. Indeed, it was reported in August that because of Och’s foreign-corruption issues, class-action lawyers were “circling…Och-Ziff Capital Management Group like a posse of Indian braves whooping around a wagon.”

Could anyone deserve a scalping more?