Libya: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Denis Robert and the Qatar cheque

By Soufiane Khabbachi
Posted on Tuesday, 19 July 2022 16:10

Bernard-Henri Lévy and Denis Robert. © JA editing: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA Press/REA; Laurent COUSIN/HAYTHAM-REA

French media outlet Blast and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) are fighting it out in the courts and social media over the outfit's suggestion that he received money from the government of Qatar in order to support France's intervention to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

On 29 June, the appeals court in Paris found that Blast’s reporting was defamatory but did not award BHL damages or order the article to be taken down, as per his request.

The 17th chamber of Paris’ criminal court had dismissed the case in September 2021 following BHL’s defamation complaint against a former Libération journalist, but he appealed the decision.

They have linked one of the most important struggles of my life [the universality of human rights and the right to democracy] to obscure and infamous stories of money

The online media platform Blast had published a piece accusing BHL of accepting a €9.1m ($9m) cheque from Qatar to support the war in Libya.

In an investigation titled “Qatar Connection : Les Documents qui Visent Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, BHL et Laurent Platini” (Qatar Connection: The Documents that Target Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, BHL and Laurent Platini), which was published in June 2021, journalists Bernard Nicolas and Thierry Gadault published a series of documents in Arabic that they claimed were payment orders for several individuals. Among them were Carla Bruni, the wife of France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as Laurent Platini, the son of French former football star Michel Platini, and Lévy.

“Crude forgery”

The latter was the only one who filed a complaint and described the investigation document as a “crude forgery”. The publication indicates that an order for payment of 40m Qatari riyals ($9m) was written in 2011 by the then minister of economy and finance, Yousef Hussain Kamal Al-Emadi – on the orders of Emir Hamad Al-Thani, to the director of the Treasury of Qatar – to be given as a cheque to the philosopher at a later date.

“The authors of this publication have linked my name in the most unbearable way to a regime, that of Qatar, [which is dictatorial] and […] hateful; they have linked one of the most important struggles of my life [the universality of human rights and the right to democracy] to obscure and infamous stories of money, and they have thus seriously harmed my dignity and my honour,” says BHL, who decided to file a complaint against Robert. His lawyer, Alain Jakubowicz, sought €100,000 in damages and withdrawal of the article.

Great caution

This time, and contrary to the first judgement, the court of appeal ruled that the remarks made in the Blast article were defamatory, but did not condemn the authors. This is a common procedure in this type of case, as French media outlet Mediapart said: “It is not because the article is damaging to the person [and therefore that the court recognises the defamatory character] that there is a conviction. Otherwise, no revelation, no scandal could be revealed by the press.”

In addition, the journalists’ measured tone in their article was taken into account by the court of appeal, which noted the “prudence” and “measure in the expression”, and stressed that the authors “took care to specify that it was impossible to say whether the document should be considered as a piece of primary importance” or as a “crude forgery”, according to the Mediapart report.

Passage of arms

After the courts, the fight continues between BHL and Denis Robert, founder and director of Blast. However, this time, the fighting arena has moved to social media.

In the wake of the 29 June verdict, Robert said on Twitter: “I thank the press of this country for informing [the public] about Bernard-Henri Lévy’s defeat against Blast in this appeal. We accused him of accepting a €9m transfer from the Emir of Qatar in return for his support in starting the war in Libya.”

The  tweet got many reactions, including one from Jakubowicz, who responded indirectly to the online media platform’s director saying: “Concerned about impartiality in information, it would be honest […] to specify that the court of appeal considered that the comments published by Blast were defamatory but granted Blast the benefit of good faith. The nuance, you will agree, is important.”

The key to the enigma

The article revived rumours and speculations regarding the original motives for the French intervention in Libya, as well as the role played by BHL. Although the authors asked a number of questions as part of their investigation, they were careful not to give a definitive answer.

The journalists wrote, among other things, that the “key to this enigma [the reasons for BHL’s involvement in the Libyan conflict] can perhaps be found in the Qatari document”. However, they reiterated that it is “impossible to answer this question at this stage“, adding that “only judicial verifications will be able to shed light on this situation”.

Nicolas, one of the authors of this article, tells us that he and Gadault had “verified everything” during an investigation that lasted several months. He deplored the fact that his colleagues in the press had not taken up the subject, reaffirming that he has no doubt about the source that provided him with these documents.

Intelligence services

Several of the documents published in the Blast investigation came from Project Raven, a large-scale espionage operation conducted by the United Arab Emirates, which led to many documents being leaked.

Moreover, although the authors insist on the validity of their document, whose authenticity was proven to them by a “source close to the intelligence services”, they explain however that there is no proof that Lévy cashed the cheque. “We have never seen ourselves as judges. We did journalistic work. Justice will do what it decides,” says Nicolas.

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