The mysterious organisation

Apparently Loai Mohammed Deeb (43) wanted to fight for peace and a better world. He started his own human rights organisation. And one more. And then another one.

  • Hans Petter Aass
    Journalist
  • Arild I. Olsson
    Journalist
Publisert: Publisert:

Soon the man, from a small, Norwegian community, was a spider in an international web of shady organisations and dubious universities.

Millions of euros from mysterious sponsors in the UAE rolled into bank accounts which he controlled. Loai Deeb built what looked like a humanitarian empire. And made himself a very wealthy man along the way.

He did not enjoy running a take-away restaurant in Sandnes, and did not care to work as a security guard at Sola airport. Loai Deeb had bigger ambitions. Someone had bigger plans for him. Then the police took an interest. And everything fell apart.

One day in late January 2009, Loai Deeb took off his security guard uniform at Stavanger Airport Sola for the last time. During the next few years, he lived off social aid from the Norwegian government and child support from the state that he, together with his wife, received for their six kids. At the same time, he was building a network of companies that supposedly would make the world a better place - and which in fact made himself a multimillionaire.

Aftenbladet has mapped Loai Deeb's organisations’ extensive activities in Norway and several other countries.

Deeb came to Norway as an asylum seeker from Gaza in 2001. The energetic man started working in Norway more or less immediately. He had a number of jobs, both while living outside Oslo and after he moved to Sola in the southwestern part of the country in 2003. This included working in warehouse, as a delivery boy and at a reception centre for refugees. In 2005 he started his first business in Norway, together with an acquaintance; a take-away restaurant with the Godfather-inspired name Don Corleone in the neighbouring town of Sandnes. But none of Deeb’s work efforts seemed to last.

Loai Deeb had bigger plans. First he became a member of the Norwegian Labour Party. In 2007 he was elected to the council of Sola. A year later, while he was still working as a security guard at Sola airport, he claimed in an interview with Aftenbladet that he had finished a PhD in international law. He announced that he would soon set up his own law firm.

Deeb has never presented any documentation for his education. He has previously claimed he got his PhD from different universities in Europe or Africa. In the interview with the newspaper, he was quoted as saying he had received his degree from the esteemed british Oxford university.

But no lawyer's office was ever set up. Instead, the man from Gaza apparently left working life when he resigned from his job at the airport a few months later.

Then, in the summer of 2014, Loai Deeb reappeared in the official Norwegian Register of employees as project manager for aid work with a completely unknown human rights organisation. Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) had been registered with the Norwegian Companies House in 2010, but seemingly there had been no activity at the NGO during the first few years of its existence.

For the tax authorities, it must have been a complete surprise when the unemployed Deeb in 2014 suddenly announced that he had a taxable income of 5.2 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) from Dubai the year before. He claimed he had started a very successful consultancy business in Dubai. Apparently he had hit it big while helping two companies launch products in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Aftenbladet’s investigation reveals that Loai Deeb, long before he got rid of his security guard uniform at the airport, had started building what would become a small empire of organisations and businesses. These were allegedly working for human rights, peace, fair development and education worldwide.

When money started pouring into GNRD, idealists from several countries were hired to work as staff for the fast growing NGO (non-governmental organisation) that was headquartered just outside the city center of Stavanger.

Les også

Background: Idealist – or pawn in a high-stakes political game?

The man from Sola received around 140 million kroner - more than €15 million - into his accounts at SR Bank.

From Sola and Hillevåg, Loai Deeb set up a number of organisations. The common feature was that they were supposed to work for peace and human rights. Another common feature: Deeb himself - and his family - assumed quite central positions.

GNRD grew fast, as money from companies in the UAE poured into its accounts in Norway. When the police raided their office in May 2015, around 40 employees were working at the headquarter in Stavanger.

Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD)

Headquarters: Hillevåg, Stavanger

Regional offices: Geneva in Switzerland, Brussels, Belgium, Amman in Jordan, Dubai and Ajman in the United Arab Emirates, Valencia, Spain and London, UK.

Registered in 2010, but claims to have been founded in Geneva in 2008. Loai Deeb from Sola has acted as president of GNRD since the beginning. There was almost no public activity until 2013.

With a sudden and steady flow of large amounts of money from late 2012 to early 2013, the activity level of GNRD changed dramatically. Most of the money had its origin from cash and cheque deposits in the United Arab Emirates. It was then routed through different bank accounts belonging to straw companies, before being transferred to GNRD’s accounts in Norway. And to the accounts of Loai Deeb, his family and his privately held companies. According to the Norwegian police, false financial statements, audit reports and receipts were produced to legitimise and document these transactions.

GNRD gained EU lobbying privileges. And in December 2013, the organisation signed a cooperation agreement with the African Union, according to the company’s annual report. In February 2015, the organisation received special consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), after three years of opposition from Israel, the United States and Turkey.

GNRD has been observing elections in several countries in the Middle East and Africa.

GNRD grew fast, as money from companies in the UAE poured into its accounts in Norway. When the police raided their office in May 2015, around 40 employees were working at the headquarter in Stavanger.

One of the theories, launched in both Norwegian and foreign media, is that Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan is involved in the funding of GNRD. Dahlan has a close friendship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, and has sought refuge in UAE when he had to escape the Palestinian Authority after several years of conflict with president Mahmoud Abbas.

The Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Økokrim) raided GNRD in May 2015, and charged both Loai Deeb and the organisation for money laundering.

After that, the transfers of funds from the Middle East ended gradually. GNRD changed its name in Norway to Human Rights and Development Network just weeks before the organisation went bankrupt during the summer of 2016. In other countries - like Switzerland, Belgium and Spain - the organisation's regional offices are still found in business registers.

On 30 April 2018, Økokrim charged Deeb for embezzlement, forgery and human trafficking. Official sources told Aftenbladet that they suspected an Iranian citizen, smuggled into Norway and Schengen, most likely is an agent working for the regime in Tehran.

Økokrim has dismissed the case against GNRD after the organisation went bankrupt. The authorities in the United Arab Emirates have not responded to request for assistance from the Norwegian police.

GNRD's Swiss branch was located in this building, not far from the UN building Le Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The state prosecutor's office in Geneva told Aftenbladet that both Loai Deeb and GNRD are also under investigation in Switzerland.

Arab and Israeli media linked GNRD to the Palestinian Intelligence Service in 2012. This caused major unrest in the organisation, and several board members resigned the following year.

This document is allegedly from the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence services. It describes the intelligence operation “The Striking Arm”. According to the document, Global Network for Rights and Development would be a spy organisation tasked with gathering information for the Palestinian’s secret services and influencing opinion makers in the west.

A former member of the board claims that Loai Deeb hijacked the organisation when he suddenly began receiving funds from the UAE in 2013. This could explain why two different GNRD companies now appear in the Swiss company register. One with an English name, the other one with a French.

Loai Deeb is still registered as president of the organisation Global Network for Rights and Development in Geneva.

When the French-named organisation Réseau Global pour les Droits et le Développement was registered in Switzerland in February 2012, it was with Deeb as president. Deeb’s name disappeared from the register following a conflict with other board members in 2013.

Following payment problems, GNRD had to move out of its offices in Geneva. Several items, like this flag, were left behind when they left.

Scandinavian Institute for Human Rights (SIHR)

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland. Same address as GNRD and IIPJHR (see below)

Human rights organisation established by Loai Deeb and the profiled Syrian activist Haytham Manna in September 2009 (foundation date stated as March 2007). Deeb is listed as managing director, while Manna is president of the board. According to Haytham Manna, SIHR was registered with the Norwegian Companies House as a practicality. Later registered in the Swiss Companies House as The Scandinavian Institute for Human Rights (Norway) - Geneva branch, with Loai Deeb as director. Haytham Manna is managing director of the Swiss branch.

SIHR sought consultative status in the UN, but never achieved it. Israel's representative in the UN committee wondered why Loai Deeb answered questions on behalf of both GNRD, SIHR and the International Coalition Against War Criminals (see below).

Following Økokrim’s raid against GNRD, the Institute Scandinave pour les Droits de l'Homme/Fondation Haytham Manna was registered in Switzerland in November 2016. Deeb has no roles in this company.

Two other Norwegians of Palestinian origin were members of SIHR’s board for five years, until 2014. Both these men were also board members when Deeb founded the Scandinavian University (see below) two years earlier.

SIHR is still not deleted in the Norwegian public registers. In the UN's list of non-governmental organisations, the NGO’s registered address is Loai Deeb's private address in Sola.

Deeb claims that the same main sponsors from the UAE which supported GNRD, also contributed to the SIHR. Haytham Manna rejects this.

The state prosecutor's office in Geneva told Aftenbladet that both SIHR, Haytham Manna and Loai Deeb are under investigation in Switzerland.

International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR)

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland. Same address in Switzerland as GNRD and SIHR.

Human rights organisation registered in Switzerland in March 2010. According to the statutes, IIPJHR was supposed to, among other things, work to establish a network of non-governmental organisations.

According to Økokrim, the Iranian citizen who was the first president of IIPJHR is the same person Loai Deeb smuggled into the Schengen area, by pretending GNRD had hired him. According to sources, authorities in Norway fear that the Iranian citizen was an Iranian agent.

Loai Deeb became Secretary General of IIPJHR from March 2014. His wife was appointed president of the company. According to Deeb, the organisation was 100 percent funded by GNRD, and controlled by himself.

Still registered in Switzerland, but no activity on the websites since December 2015. Received special consultative status at the UN's Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC) in 2013, but no UN related activity has been registered in the ECOSOC system.

On the UN's list of non-governmental organisations, Loai Deeb's private email is registered as the main contact.

In March 2013, there was a riot during a Syria meeting arranged by IIPJHR in Geneva. Anti-fascist protesters turned up because the event allegedly was backed by groups supporting the Assad regime in Syria, according to Swiss newspaper Le Courier. One of the speakers was a Belgian citizen, who said he had been working for both IIPJHR and GNRD.

In September 2013, IIPJHR published a report on the war in Syria. The report, which received international coverage, claimed that there was no evidence that the regime in Syria had used chemical weapons in Ghouta in August of that year. Images from the scene of the alleged chemical attack had caused the United States to threaten military assault against President Assad.

International Coalition Against War Criminals (ICAWC)

Headquarters: Sola (according to the Norwegian Companies House), Malakoff in France (according to website).

Founded by Loai Deeb and Syrian human rights activist Haytham Manna in April 2009. However, on the UN's list of non-governmental organisations, the ICAWC is said to have been founded in 2006. Loai Deeb is listed as CEO and chairman. Haytham Manna has served as "general coordinator".

Two other Norwegians of Palestinian origin also served on the ICAWC board. Both these men were also board members when Deeb founded The Scandinavian University (see below) two years earlier.

According to the ICAWS’ own website, 400 non-governmental  organisations were part of the coalition. ICAWC also states that it has licenses to operate in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Norway.

ICAWC applied for consultative status at the UN, but did not achieving this. In connection with the UN application, Deeb stated that he was the director of ICAWC.

The foundation has not been deleted from the Norwegian business registers, but the website shows there has been no activity for several years. On the UN's list of non-governmental organisations, the registered address is Loai Deeb's former private address.

At the beginning, the ICAWC seems to have been particularly interested in the Palestinian conflict. The organisation received media coverage in several countries in 2009. Then Loai Deeb (claiming to be a lawyer), together with Norwegian lawyers Harald Stabell, Kjell Brygfjeld, Bent Endresen, Geir Høin and Pål Hadler, reported 10 Israeli top politicians and military leaders to the Norwegian police for war crimes committed during Israel's Gaza war late 2008 to early 2009.

As recent as July 2014, these same Norwegian lawyers also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. It was then ten years since the International Court at The Hague had criticised Israel for building walls around the Palestinian autonomous territories. Again, Loai Deeb signed the letter as a lawyer. The letter was also sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Several trade unions, as well as political and religious organisations supported the letter.

With a sudden and steady flow of large amounts of money from early 2013, the activity level of GNRD changed dramatically. Large sections of the organisation's management were also changed. Ramadan Abu Jazar, a Belgian of Palestinian origin, was appointed director of the GNRD office in Brussels and was also on the GNRD board. Jazar, pictured here during an election observation in Tunisia, does not want to be interviewed by Aftenbladet.

The GNRD Foundation

Headquarters: Sola, Norway

Registered in the Norwegian Companies House in September 2014 as a foundation/legacy which supports charitable causes. Loai Deeb is general manager and chairman of the board. The GNRD foundation was said to be GNRD’s main sponsor, according to the company’s website.

Both Deeb's wife and the vice president of GNRD are members of the board. In the annual report for 2016, the auditor wrote that the GNRD Foundation was due to be closed down in 2017. But the organisation is still in existence.

European Center for Rights and Justice

Headquarters: Sola.

Registered in March 2013, but allegedly founded in September 2009.

Loai Deeb's wife is listed as chairman and general manager. The Russian woman who headed GNRD’s executive committee, and who is the former director of GNRD in Brussels, Belgium, is also a member of the board.

The business has not been deleted from the Norwegian registers.

The organisation has apparently not had any activity, but is registered on the UN's list of non-governmental organisations.

Loai Deeb’s activities went beyond human rights organisations. According to himself, he also set up a university which, allegedly, employed 175 professors, 275 PhD staff and more than 300 lecturers. Address: His own residence in Sola.

The Scandinavian University

Headquarters: Sola, Norway

Established in July 2007, with Loai Deeb as chairman. The university was owned by Deeb and another man of Palestinian origin, now living in Rogaland. A third Norwegian-Palestinian, who worked with Deeb on the take-away restaurant Don Corleone in Sandnes, was also appointed member of the board.

According to the university’s statutes, the university offers internet based education for "students based in the Middle East area".

In 2009, the Norwegian Ministry of Education got a tip off that Deeb claimed to be running a university from his own private residence.

In a letter to the authorities dated March 2010, Deeb claimed that The Scandinavian University was an international university, which employed 175 professors, 275 PhD staff and more than 300 lecturers. He also alleged there was work in progress to set up branches of The Scandinavian University in Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Dubai.

The Ministry of Education responded by threatening to report Deeb to the police. The University changed its name to Scandinavian Group DA in November 2011, after the name controversy. The entire business was deleted from the Norwegian registers in March 2014.

Universal Studies Academy

Headquarters: Gaza

Palestinian educational institution, which according to information from the organisation itself, exists in Gaza. Both Deeb and the prominent Labour Party veteran from Stavanger, Odd Kristian "Kian" Reme, are listed as employees of the academy. Reme is also one of four members at the university's top academic faculty.

Reme, who on the Academy's website is incorrectly listed with a PhD in politics and international relations and with an email address giving him a director's title, tells Aftenbladet that this is something he is not familiar with. According to Reme, he was awarded a honorary doctorate at the educational institution in Gaza about ten years ago. The honorary doctorate was presented to him by Loai Deeb at Reme’s office in Stavanger Town Hall.

Aftenbladet has not been able to confirm that Universal Studies Academy really exists. No one has responded to enquiries via email and phone. According to the Wayback internet archive service, there are no registrations for the Palestinian business before April 2012, although on its website the academy claims to have been active online since 2005.

Universal Studies Academy was allegedly accredited by the American company World Association of Universities and Colleges (WAUC) in 2008. WAUC was founded by an American woman who tried to set up universities in the United States, but who ended up being prosecuted by US authorities. Instead, she started her own accreditation business, which was never approved by US authorities. WAUC does not exist anymore.

According to the University Studies Academy website, "the academy has achieved trust and respect from everyone, including the world's largest institutions, especially in Norway and in the EU".

Student fees are to be paid into a bank account at Ajman Bank in the United Arab Emirates, marked with the name of the president of the academy.

In 2012, The Academy claimed on its website to be fully accredited by an organisation named the American International Academy (AIA), which allegedly can issue certificates of completed studies marked "Wyoming, USA".

Both the Universal Studies Academy and the American International Academy are in alliance with a Florida registered organisation: The Board of International Trainers in America (BITA). According to a profile of Loai Deeb on Zoominfo (a website with the same functionality as LinkedIn), Deeb is an "Advisory member/Founding member" of BITA.

Deeb tells Aftenbladet that he has never been part of BITA, but that he was asked by a friend several years ago to sit on the board “if my consultation is needed". Deeb says he has not been contacted since, and that he does not have any more knowledge of BITA.

European Association for Private School Accreditation (EAPSA)

Headquarters: Figgjo, Norway

Registered in the Norwegian Companies House by Loai Deeb in March 2010. According to the statutes of the association, the plan was to set EAPSA up as a voluntary organisation that would work on educational development.

The office address stated in public registers can be linked to the Norwegian citizen who was also Deeb's partner in the establishment of The Scandinavian University. This Norwegian-Palestinian man is listed as chairman of the board in the founding document. One of Loai Deeb's brothers was also involved in establishing EAPSA. Deeb was listed as managing director and board member.

EAPSA was struck off the register in December 2010. The organisation does not appear to have been active.

From Sola and Stavanger, Loai Deeb built a large international network of non-governmental organisations. There are close ties to Switzerland, Belgium, Sudan and Egypt - where his friends fought to do drive out the Norwegian state broadcaster for critisising Deeb and GNRD.

Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights

Headquarters: Cairo, Egypt

Egyptian organisation, which in autumn 2015 spearheaded attempts to get the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK expelled from Egypt on the back of claims it had not covered the GNRD case objectively. The leader of the organisation said in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper in May 2015 that Maat was in partnership with Deeb’s organisations GNRD and IIPJHR.

Has had consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2016.

International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland

Human Rights Organisation established in Geneva under the leadership of the controversial Kuwaiti politician Abdul Hameed Dashti in the summer of 2011. Dashti is known as a supporter of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to news reports, he also participated in an attack on two journalists from Yemen at the UN building in Geneva in 2016.

ICSFTHR was awarded special consultative status at ECOSOC in 2016. Indicates on UN's list of non-governmental organisations that it was founded in 2011 and then registered from 2012.

Loai Deeb is, according to a founding document in Aftenbladets possession, the legal consultant for the organisation. Deeb himself denies this, and says he is not listed in the Swiss company register today with such a role. Deeb says he knows Dashti through a collaboration with Haytham Manna. In 2011, the three men were part of a delegation which travelled to The Hague to report 50 leaders in Bahrain to the Human Rights Court.

Aftenbladet has not found evidence of collaboration between ICSFTHR and Deeb during the last few years.

Agence Pour les Droits de L'Homme (ADH)

Established in Geneva in 2011.

Received special consultative status at the UN agency ECOSOC in 2015.

Secretary General and co-founder is Amir Forotan Bagda (Swiss citizen of Iranian origin), who has worked with Deeb on several projects. According to a report from GNRD, he was one of its communications experts in April 2015. In addition, he has had key roles with both SIHR and IIPJHR. He is still on the board of the Scandinavian Institute for Human Rights/Foundation Haytham Manna.

Amir Forotan Bagda has, amongst other things, been accused of anti semitism, because he has defended the controversial French comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala. Dieudonné has been convicted several times in his homeland for promoting hatred against jews.

In March 2016, ADH organised a seminar on the Ukraine at the UN building in Geneva. According to Ukrainian activists, the event was held to promote Russian views. Amir Forotan Bagda was moderator at the seminar.

Another former GNRD employee is also on the board of ADH.

Ma'arij Foundation for Peace and Development

Headquarters: Khartoum, Sudan

Human rights organisation led by Mohammad Al Bashir, the president of Sudan’s brother. The vice president of GNRD worked at Ma'arij before joining GNRD in 2014. One of the key leaders of GNRD writes on his Facebook page that he has previously worked as a consultant for the organisation.

Ma'arij has had consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2010.

On 26 February 2018, the Ma'arij Foundation was registered as a subdivision of a foreign company in the Swiss Companies House. Both contact persons listed in the newly registered business in Switzerland played central roles in the GNRD organisation. One was vice president of GNRD. This person is still a resident of Norway. The other contact person is a Sudanese citizen, who lives in Switzerland and who was also a GNRD board member in Switzerland from 2013.

On 25 February 2011, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva discussed the dramatic development in Libya after the Arab Spring hit the North African country. Loai Deeb, who according to the UN press release claimed to represent the Ma’arij Foundation, proposed to suspend Libya from the council.

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