Lebanon PM sues American University of Beirut for $1m

Diab’s lawsuit for exit package claims comes as prestigious university struggles for its financial survival.

American University of Beirut
American University of Beirut, one of the Arab world's oldest universities, faces its worst crisis since its foundation with massive losses, staff cuts and an uphill battle to stay afloat [File: Aziz Taher/Reuters]

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab is suing the cash-strapped American University of Beirut for roughly one million dollars, sources familiar with the matter tell Al Jazeera.

The AUB – one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the Middle East – is in a battle for its financial survival as the institution is squeezed by Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in living memory and the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before becoming prime minister in January, Diab was an engineering professor at the AUB and served as its vice president for regional external programs – a position he was slated to hold until 2025.

Two sources familiar with Diab’s lawsuit told Al Jazeera that the prime minister filed the complaint in June, seeking approximately one million dollars in exit package compensation he claimed he is due.

During a meeting with AUB’s Board of Trustees before his government was formed, Diab had also made an oral request that his compensation be transferred outside of Lebanon, one source who was briefed on the meeting said.

Lebanon is suffering from a severe shortage of US dollars, and such an arrangement would have allowed Diab to skirt informal capital controls severely restricting US dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad that have been in place since November.

“We thought he was coming in to ask for something in the public interest – to arrange a meeting with an official or seek input on those he was considering [for Cabinet positions]. It turned out to be completely out of selfish self-interest,” the source said.

Lebanon Diab
During a meeting with AUB’s Board of Trustees before his government was formed, Diab requested that the compensation he claims he is owed by the university be transferred outside of Lebanon – enabling him to dodge capital controls, one source who was briefed on the meeting told Al Jazeera [File: Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters]

Local news site Al Modon had reported in April that Diab threatened to sue the AUB if he were not paid what he believes he is owed. Al Arabiya English on Tuesday first reported he had filed suit.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Diab’s office said: “The Prime Minister has never made any special request for any payments to be made either in foreign currency or into foreign bank accounts.

“All AUB professors have their pensions paid in US dollars, from a AUB foreign account. What the PM expressed when he made his long-planned resignation was only what was already stated in the AUB retirement plan regulations and policies.”

AUB has a standing policy that public office holders cannot simultaneously serve as full-time faculty. Individuals who do take public office can either resign their position with the university or opt to take unpaid leave of up to two years, the sources said.

Diab has done neither, instead arguing that holding the office of prime minister forced him from his university job for which he should be paid in full, the sources said.

Diab’s lawsuit was filed after AUB in May announced that it was “facing perhaps its greatest crisis since the university’s foundation in 1866”, due to huge losses it was suffering stemming from Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis that has seen thousands of businesses fold, tens of thousands of Lebanese thrown out of work, and the local currency ravaged by inflation. 

AUB President Fadlo Khuri said last month that the university is laying off 25 percent of its staff – more than 1,000 people – and closing some administrative departments.

“It’s just incredible,” one source said. “Because he’s the PM, now he feels like he can bully AUB and get away with this.”

Source: Al Jazeera