In a 2009 email, [Douglas] Band directs Abedin and Mills to put Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire and Clinton Foundation donor, in contact with the State Department’s “substance person” on Lebanon.
“We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon,” Bandwrote. “As you know, he’s a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.”
“It’s jeff feltman,” Abedin responded, referring to Jeffrey Feltman, who was the US ambassador to Lebanon at the time. “I’m sure he knows him. I’ll talk to jeff.”
Gilbert R. Chagoury, or Ambassador Chagoury as he prefers to be addressed, since he holds what seem to be honorary Ambassadorships (one to the Vatican for St. Lucia and another to UNESCO), is a very wealthy man. His estimated worth is $7.4 billion. A gallery at the Louvre is named for him and his wife. He is well known for making large donations and among those he has donated to, the Clinton Foundation stands out. He has given the Clinton Foundation between $1 million and $5 million. In 2009, he also pledged $1 billion to the Clinton Global Initiative. Robin Urevich revealed quite a bit about Mr. Chagoury in an extensive investigative piece for PBS’s Frontline.
“Every one knows I’m friends with the Clintons,” Chagoury says.
In addition to his a large donations to the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, he has also donated to Mrs. Clinton’s previous Presidential campaign according to the Wall Street Journal from 2008:
Mr. Chagoury contributed $460,000 to a tax-exempt voter-registration group connected to the Democratic National Committee. A 1997 Washington Post article said that Mr. Chagoury subsequently received an invitation to a White House dinner for Democratic Party supporters. He also met with Clinton administration officials on Nigeria and later talked privately about his efforts to influence U.S. policy toward that country, says a person familiar with the matter.
Despite any controversies, Mr. Chagoury has steadily built ties to Mr. Clinton. In 2003, he helped organize a Caribbean trip where the former president was paid $100,000 for a speech. Mr. Clinton has made over $40 million giving speeches around the world. According to news reports, Mr. Chagoury attended Mr. Clinton’s 60th birthday bash two years ago in New York. He also joined the former president at the gala wedding celebration in France last year of Mr. Clinton’s top aide, Douglas Band, say people who were there.
Doug Band heads the Clinton Foundation and a global consulting business called Teneo Holdings connected to the Clintons. It was his email requesting a favor for Chagoury from the State Department which surfaced in the latest FOIA disclosure by Judicial Watch. According to an article in Newsmax (2009):
Band carries the title Counselor to President Clinton, but he is much more than an aide to the former president. He is, in fact, Bill Clinton’s chief advisor and right hand.
He also created the Clinton Global Initiative which according to the same article raised $46 billion dollars in just four years. Some of those funds came from Mr. Chagoury. So where, then, did Mr. Chagoury get his wealth?
The big money seems to have started flowing his way when he became an advisor to Sani Abacha, the military ruler and de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998. Returning to the Frontline expose:
Chagoury was among the last of the all-powerful middlemen who served the heads of oil-rich African states, says Philippe Vasset, longtime editor of Africa Energy Intelligence, one of a series of influential energy industry newsletters. “He [Chagoury] was the gatekeeper to Abacha’s presidency,” Vasset says.
In many African countries, a Western entrepreneur might hand over money to a fixer or middleman, who would then pass it on to a political leader in exchange for support for a business venture. In Nigeria, Vasset explains, Chagoury was just such a figure in the mid-1990s, when Abacha ruled the country and held the key to much of the country’s oil wealth.
From his earliest days in power, Abacha set the tone for an administration that would become the most corrupt in Nigeria’s history. Today, more than a decade after the dictator’s death, investigators from Washington DC to the Nigerian capital of Abuja are still unraveling the web of shady dealings around Abacha’s rule.
Within months of taking office in 1993, Abacha began to divert money from Nigeria’s central bank to the overseas bank accounts of his family members and associates, including Chagoury’s. A lawsuit brought by the Nigerian government against Abacha’s heirs and associates in the United Kingdom shows that the dictator fraudulently ordered the bank transfers for national security purposes.
By the time of Abacha’s death in 1998, those so-called security payments would total $2 billion, but they would represent less than half the funds that money-laundering investigators around the world estimate that Abacha and his associates stole from their country.
In 2000, Chagoury was convicted in Geneva, Switzerland, of laundering money and aiding a criminal organization in connection with the billions of dollars stolen from Nigeria during the Abacha years.
Argand [his attorney] has insisted that Chagoury used the money for diplomatic missions on behalf of Abacha. Asked if he had records to substantiate that claim, Argand said he couldn’t produce any. He also conceded that the money was “stolen by Abacha, and had to be returned.”
However, Argand says that Chagoury had already decided on his own to return it. In the end, he says, his client agreed to a plea deal: Chagoury would pay a fine of a million Swiss francs and hand over $66 million to the Nigerian government. Swiss authorities promised to expunge the conviction after two years, which they have done.
In 1999, Chagoury won immunity from prosecution in a separate looted-assets case in Nigeria by agreeing to return money that he held in Swiss bank accounts. The precise amount that Chagoury returned is unclear.
And Chagoury hasn’t stopped earning his fortune. Knowledgeable sources say that Chagoury controls South Atlantic Petroleum, a company that was awarded a choice oil exploration license before Abacha’s death. Three years ago, the company sold a portion of its government-granted concession to the Chinese oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, for $2.7 billion.
Chagoury has since used those funds he kept in order to reinvent himself as a great businessman/philanthropist and patron of the Catholic Church.
Chagoury’s work with Christians in the Middle East is where things take another strange turn. He helped to organize “In Defense of Christians” (IDC) an organization which is pro-Hezbollah – yes you read that right, pro-Hezbollah, pro-Assad and pro-Iran. You may remember back in September of 2014, Ted Cruz addressed this group with a pro-Israel message, was booed, scolded the audience in return and unceremoniously left the stage. Lee Smith gives some background in the Weekly Standard:
Chagoury, who according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables has supported Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s key Christian ally in Lebanon. A 2007 cable also explains that Chagoury is close to Suleiman Franjieh Jr., another pillar of Lebanon’s pro-Damascus, pro-Hezbollah March 8 political coalition and a man who calls Assad his friend and brother. Former prime minister of Lebanon Fouad Siniora suggested to then U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman “that the U.S. deliver to Chagoury a stern message about the possibility of financial sanctions and travel bans against those who undermine Lebanon’s legitimate institutions.”
Remember, it was Ambassador Feltman whom Chagoury asked to see in the leaked State Department email. Since this cable dates from 2007, it is safe to say the Siniora’s recommendation never came to pass. But the question remains, what was the real purpose of IDC? How deep are Chagoury’s ties to the terrorist group, Hezbollah? Did any of this influence the State Department or the Iran deal? And did Hillary Clinton refuse to list Boko Haram as a terrorist organization while at the State Department as a favor to Chagoury?
Rebecca Bynum is New English Review’s managing editor. She also serves as advisor to the American Mid-East Coalition for Trump. Her latest book is The Real Nature of Religion, published by New English Review Press.