A senior official of the Clinton Foundation, the politically well-connected charity started by former US President Bill Clinton, sought State Department favors for Gilbert Chagoury, the Nigerian-Lebanese businessman convicted of helping former head of state Sani Abacha steal billions of public dollars.
The revelations, contained in a 2009 exchange of emails between Clinton Foundation executive Doug Band and two senior State Department officials during Mrs. Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, raise new questions about the relationship between the Foundation and the Clinton State Department that is currently a subject of intense debate in the US presidential campaigns.
In this US presidential election year, these developments are fueling accusations by the opposition Republican party who claim that the Clintons abused their role as public servants, and worked against US interests, by granting favors to foreign interests through their Foundation.
Chagoury a “key guy”
The emails, released by the conservative group Judicial Watch, reveal that on April 25th, 2009 Mr. Band, a former aide to US President Bill Clinton and a key figure at the Foundation, emailed Secretary of State Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills and deputy chief Huma Abedin with a request that they schedule a meeting between Mr. Chagoury and the key US “substance person” in Lebanon. Mr. Band described Mr. Chagoury as a “key guy” for the foundation and said the meeting was “very important.”
Mrs. Abedin, a longtime personal aide to Mrs. Clinton, replied by agreeing to contact the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, on Mr. Chagoury’s behalf, prompting a final email from Mr. Band urging her to call the Ambassador immediately, reminding her again that Mr. Chagoury was “very important.”
What made Mr. Chagoury important to the Clinton Foundation?
According to Foundation records, Mr. Chagoury is one of its largest individual donors, contributing between $1 -$5 million to the charity. Mr. Chagoury has also reportedly pledged $1 billion to the Clinton Global Initiative, a separate project of the Foundation. In a press statement, Mr. Chagoury’s spokesman Mark Corallo denied wrongdoing and said that Mr. Chagoury had not seen the Clintons in years. Nor did he meet with Ambassador Feltman, although Mr. Corallo confirmed his client had sought a meeting.
In fact, Mr. Chagoury’s ties to the Clintons go back to the Abacha period. In a rare interview with the press, he told journalist Robin Urevich the Clintons were “friends,” and confirmed that he had donated $500,000 to an “independent” voter registration drive in 1996, during Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. That contribution, which skirted the ban on foreign funding for US political campaigns, earned him an invitation to the White House and marked the beginning of his personal relationship with the Clintons.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Chagoury’s $500,000 donation followed a conversation with top Clinton aides on how to influence the Abacha regime. This donation comes months after Nigerian political activist, and rightful President, Moshood Abiola was assassinated by the Abacha regime in front of American diplomats escalating tensions between Washington and Abuja. Observers have noted that serious discussion of sanctioning the Nigerian government for human rights abuses, and the assassination of Mr. Abiola, dissipated following meetings with Mr. Chagoury and his generous donations.
Mr. Chagoury’s role as a go-between and bagman for the Abacha regime is well documented. In a documentary shown on American public television, he recalled that he first befriended Mr. Abacha when he was a young officer and Mr. Chagoury was an aspiring industrialist. After Abacha seized power in 1993, investigators found, Mr. Chagoury designed a complex global network of shell companies, offshore bank accounts and fraudulent business deals that allowed Abacha and his family and cronies – including himself – to siphon off an estimated $4 billion in oil revenue and tax money.
A longtime observer of the Nigeria oil industry, African Energy Observer editor Philippe Vasset, told reporter Robin Urevich that any company wanting to do business in Abacha’s Nigeria had to go through Gilbert Chagoury. "He was the gatekeeper to Abacha's presidency," Vasset noted, ensuring that Abacha and his inner circle always got their cut.
Nuhu Ribadu, who investigated Mr. Chagoury when he headed the Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, told Urevich in 2008: "You couldn't investigate corruption without looking at Chagoury."
In 2004, Ribadu said, he lured Mr. Chagoury to a remote airfield in northern Nigeria airport to arrest him. The plan was foiled when an airport official apparently alerted Chagoury’s pilot by radio. After touching down, the plane picked up speed and took off again, immediately leaving Nigerian airspace.
Convicted of corruption
Mr. Chagoury was less fortunate in Europe. In 2000, he was convicted of laundering stolen money in Switzerland, and returned $66 million to the Nigerian treasury. A year later, he admitted in a London court to having laundered $300 million for the Abacha family, and escaped prosecution by agreeing to return as much as $200 million to the Nigerian treasury. Mr. Chagoury was also investigated by the US in connection with the Halliburton bribery scheme which funneled $180 million to Abacha, but escaped prosecution.
Clinton Foundation officials have failed to explain why they accepted donations from a convicted money launderer of Nigeria’s stolen wealth or why they intervened with the State Department on his behalf.
Neither the Foundation nor the Clinton presidential campaign responded to SaharaReporters’ request for comment.
According to an Associated Press report on Tuesday, over half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation, suggesting that “extraordinary proportion” indicates possible ethics challenges for her if elected president in November.
“At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs,” AP said of its review of State Department calendars released to it.
“Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million,” the report said. “At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.”
The Clinton campaign immediately pushed back against the report. “It cherry-picked a limited subset of Secretary Clinton’s schedule to give a distorted portrayal of how often she crossed paths with individuals connected to charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.