Exclusive: The Oxford Union’s agreement with Saudi Think Tank
The Oxford Union reportedly signed an agreement with the Future Investment Initiative (FII) last October, The Oxford Student can reveal. Multiple press releases and posts from the FII confirm the agreement, which was signed in Riyadh last year at the FII’s 6th edition. The FII was set up by Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund and became notorious after it was blacklisted by major companies as a result of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to the press releases, the partnership was signed by Michael Li, the ex-President TT17 who represented himself to the FII as the Oxford Union’s Chair of Development Board. The Union have since confirmed that the Development Board does not exist, and that Michael Li is instead Chair of US Fundraising.
The agreement reportedly promised to provide members of the Union with “key data and information produced by the FII Institute and its partners”. A further LinkedIn post said that the agreement entitled “collaboration on publications, research, events and an overarching strategy to engage the youth both at the University of Oxford and internationally on the most pressing global topics, helping identify, debate, and synthesise real-world solutions.”
The Oxford Union told The Oxford Student that they have no current relationship with the FII and that no agreement had been signed, telling us that this had been confirmed by the FII. However, when we initially approached the FII, we received contradicting statements.
Initially, the FII’s Head of THINK, Safiye Kucukkucara, with whom Michael Li reportedly signed the agreement, told us that promoting the agreement was “a really good idea” and that she wanted us to work with the FII to “amplify the messaging”. After further messaging, the FII also confirmed to us that they had agreed an exploratory partnership with The Oxford Union for Hilary Term 2023. When we asked the FII for comment on The Oxford Union’s claim that they had never signed an agreement, they did not respond to multiple emails. Currently, the press release and posts remain online and unedited.
There is also a photograph of Michael Li in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, signing a document alongside Safiye Kucukkucara in front of The Oxford Union logo. The Oxford Union told us, “It is customary and polite in many cultures to mark an interaction or a discussion with a symbolic photograph, in this instance to mark an agreement in principle to explore a partnership.” The use of the copyrighted logo was not signed off by Ahmad Nawaz (President at the time), but instead by Laura Lvov, Director of Development, at the behest of Charlie Mackintosh (President-elect at the time).
The agreement was reportedly signed in October 2022, during Ahmad Nawaz’s Union Presidency, but The Oxford Union and Charlie Mackintosh have confirmed to us that it was at Charlie Mackintosh’s behest that Michael Li explored a potential relationship with the FII. If any agreement was signed on The Oxford Union’s behalf, it should have been done so by the President and passed through The Standing Committee. Yet it was not passed through The Standing Committee, nor was Ahmad Nawaz made aware that any agreement had been signed.
The Oxford Union refused to comment on whether they were concerned about the potential for the FII to try and influence the discussion at The Oxford Union, instead simply telling us that no agreement had been signed.
A Union Spokesperson said, “The Oxford Union does not have an agreement with the FII Institute. The MT22 President-Elect did explore the opportunity for collaborations during his term with multiple organisations, including the FII. No agreements were reached and the Oxford Union has contacted the FII to request amendments to their press releases, which they have agreed to make.”