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Ex-CEO of Dubai film event sues

December 11, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

In its four years, the Dubai International Film Festival has developed a reputation as a "cultural bridge" between the Middle East and the West. But the event's leadership ranks have been anything but peaceful, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles.

The founder and former chief executive of the festival, whose fourth annual event opened Sunday night, alleged in his suit that two senior officials conspired to oust him in February and then tried to ruin his reputation by branding him an "Arab-hater."

Neil Stephenson is seeking at least $5 million in damages from Abdulhamid Juma, the festival's chairman, and Shivani Pandya, its managing director.

The suit accuses the defendants of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other civil violations.

Calls to the festival's office Monday seeking comment from Juma and Pandya were not returned. Stephenson claimed that Juma arbitrarily stripped him of authority over festival staff, forbade him from speaking to the media on behalf of the festival and subjected him to "hostile behavior and personal insults" in an effort to induce his departure.

Stephenson claimed Juma barred him from the festival's offices and then issued a news release falsely stating that Stephenson resigned to "pursue other interests." When Stephenson tried to hold a news conference, he alleges, Juma had his representatives tell reporters that Stephenson was a "racist" who routinely mistreated Arab guests at the Dubai festival.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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