Oxford stays silent over dodgy donors

Emily Loud - News Editor 23 June 2012

The University of Oxford has come under fire for two of its multi-million pound donors from the student newspaper The Cherwell, which has been investigating its annual donor list for the academic year 2009-10.

The first is the Italian multinational oil and gas company Eni SpA, which donated between £1,000,000 and £9,999,999 to the Said Business School during this period of time.

Correspondence between Jerry P. Lanier, the US ambassador to Uganda in 2009, and the US government revealed that Eni was accused by rival company Tullow Oil of bribing Ugandan government ministers.

Published by WikiLeaks in 2010, the communication detailed allegations that Eni had paid off both Ugandan Energy Secretary Onek and Security Minister Mbabazi in order to gain the rights to the newly discovered oil resources.

Lanier seemed to find the allegations convincing, writing “If Tullow’s allegations are true – and we believe they are – then this is a critical moment for Uganda’s nascent oil sector.”

With Mbabazi now the Prime Minister of Uganda and Onek Minister for Internal Affairs they have continued to deny the accusations. Eni SpA has done the same, stating through a spokesperson: “With regard to our support for academia, Eni supports academic research at various different universities around the world, including Oxford where our support is for scholarships, research and executive training initiatives.”

The second point of controversy was the donation of $5 million from philanthropist and investor George Soros to the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET).

Soros was convicted of insider trading in 2002 for his purchasing of Societe Generale shares before its sale in 1989, and the French Supreme Court ordered him to repay €940,000 of his profits in 2007. Soros’ spokesperson still maintains he is innocent of insider trading and that the law under which he was convicted was unfairly applied in retrospect.

Oxford University has thus far not made a statement on the eligibility of such donors, but their official policy states “The University will consider gifts from that donor if the behaviour which led to the donor’s reputation being tarnished has clearly ceased.”

The University of Cambridge has similarly worded caveats for the provenance of donations: “care will be exercised in accepting any benefaction, where there is a risk of significant damage to the University’s reputation” but that “no account shall be taken of mere rumour”.

However, these guidelines did not prevent the University for coming under fire earlier this year for accepting of £3.7 million from the mysterious Chinese organisation, Chong Hua.

Emily Loud – News Editor