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Man With Nigeria Ties at Clinton Dinner
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- Subject: Man With Nigeria Ties at Clinton Dinner
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- Date: Mon, 24 Nov 97 10:46:39 PST
...and we wonder why Clinton has been slow with Nigeria sanctions...
Voters Group Donor Got DNC Perk
Man With Nigeria Ties Was at Clinton Dinner
By Charles R. Babcock and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 22, 1997; Page A01
The Washington Post
Officials of the Democratic National Committee helped a
foreign businessman closely tied to Nigerian dictator Sani
Abacha attend a White House holiday dinner with President
Clinton last year, a few months after he contributed $460,000
to a voter registration group that won support from the DNC.
Gilbert Chagoury, a foreign citizen with extensive family
business interests in Nigeria, was included in the dinner for 250
top DNC donors last Dec. 21 although he is not a party
contributor and could not legally give to the Democrats.
He also had a meeting on U.S.-Nigeria relations -- strained
since the 1995 hangings of nine Abacha political opponents --
with high level administration officials at the White House in
July. Those officials said they were unaware of the donations or
Chagoury was solicited by a DNC fund-raiser last fall to give
to a Miami-based nonprofit voter registration group, Vote
Now 96, that has come under scrutiny from Congressional
investigators because of its connections to the DNC and
indications that in some cases, at least, donors ineligible to give
to the party were steered to the voters group. DNC officials
attempted to divert one of Vote Now 96's large contributors to
the reelection campaign of Teamsters President Ron Carey.
As a tax-exempt group, Vote Now 96 is supposed to be
nonpartisan. Records show that much of the money it raised
last year was directed to other nonprofits and voter registration
groups. A lawyer for Vote Now 96 said its officials had never
heard of Chagoury when he made three contributions in
amounts of $200,000, $10,000 and $250,000 in September
and October 1996. Though foreigners are barred from
contributing to political parties, they may legally contribute to
nonprofit groups. Efforts to reach Chagoury at his Paris home
and through relatives in this country were unsuccessful.
DNC spokesman Steve Langdon said Chagoury was invited to
the dinner with Clinton because "he was a supporter of Vote
Now 96, a voter participation project of importance to the
DNC." He said this group was important "because of its effort
to increase participation in traditional disenfranchised, low
income and minority communities."
"We have no knowledge about whether anyone at the White
House or the DNC was involved in directing a donation to
Vote Now 96," said White House spokesman Lanny J. Davis.
A source familiar with DNC fund-raising said Chagoury's
donations were solicited by Mark Weiner, a longtime
Democratic fund-raiser from Rhode Island. Weiner's office
said he was vacationing in the Caribbean and unreachable.
Weiner, the treasurer of the Democratic Governors
Association, owns a company, Financial Innovations Inc., that
markets merchandise and souvenirs at Democratic Party and
Sources knowledgeable about the White House dinner said
then-Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and
chief Clinton campaign fund-raiser Terence R. McAuliffe were
listed as sponsors of the dinner invitation to Chagoury, his wife
and three children. Ickes and McAuliffe could not be reached
for comment, but sources said they routinely sponsored
invitations for donors recommended by the party.
Vote Now 96 has surfaced in connection with congressional
investigations of DNC fund-raising because Democratic
officials were steering donations its way. DNC officials
arranged for Judith Vasquez, a Filipino businesswoman, to give
$100,000 to Vote Now in August 1996, after first trying to
steer her contribution to Carey's Teamster reelection campaign.
Ickes referred Warren Medoff, a Miami businessman courting
a potential Texas donor, to the group just before the election.
Vote Now 96 and its parent, Citizen Vote Inc., a New York
nonprofit, raised more than $3 million last year. It channeled
the money to other groups, including Citizens Fund, an affiliate
of Citizen Action, a nonprofit that became involved in the
Teamsters' fund-raising scandal.
Robert F. Bauer, an attorney for Citizen Vote Inc., said
organization officials relied on experienced fund-raisers to find
donors but didn't know who had solicited the Chagoury
Vote Now 96 supporters, including the heads of several
foundations and other DNC donors, also were feted at a July
12, 1996, White House dinner paid for by the voters group. It
was attended by the Clintons, Alexis M. Herman, now
secretary of labor, Henry Cisneros, then-secretary of housing
and urban development, and Hugh Westbrook, a Florida
health care executive and Democratic fund-raiser who was
chairman of Vote Now 96.
State Department and National Security Council officials
described Chagoury, a Lebanese whose family has lived in
Nigeria for decades, as extremely close to Abacha, whose
relations with the United States have soured because of human
rights abuses and failure to stop heroin trafficking. After the
1995 hangings, there were unsuccessful efforts in Congress to
strengthen U.S. sanctions that have been in effect since 1993.
The State Department placed Nigeria on a list of nations
deemed uncooperative in the war on drugs in 1994.
Chagoury, who has homes in Lebanon, France and Nigeria,
has vast international business interests, according to
acquaintences and Nigeria experts in the U.S., as well as
foreign news reports. His enterprises include oil production
equipment, furniture manufacturing, food production and
construction. Chagoury's construction companies also have
built much of the new capital city of Abuja in central Nigeria.
At the request of Jesse L. Jackson, James B. Steinberg,
Clinton's deputy national security adviser, and Susan Rice, now
assistant secretary of state for Africa, met with Chagoury to
discuss Abacha's policies on human rights, drugs and
democracy initiatives, officials said. Jackson has since has been
named a special envoy to Africa.
Steinberg said in an interview that he and Rice agreed to meet
with Chagoury because "this was an ideal way to get a clear
message" to Abacha about the U.S. government's displeasure
with Nigeria's policies on human rights, drugs and moving
Steinberg said Nigeria's embassy "has been a notoriously bad
conduit for information." When Chagoury suggested opening a
dialogue between the two governments, Steinberg said he
declined until the Nigerians took concrete action, such as
releasing high level political prisoners. No prisoners have been
released and both Steinberg and Jackson said they have not
talked to Chagoury since July.
Jackson, who took a letter to Abacha from Clinton in 1994,
said that he was introduced to Chagoury in Washington eight
or 10 months ago, but could not recall how they had met. "We
shared our concerns" about U.S.-Nigeria relations, said
Jackson, who said he was unaware of Chagoury's
contributions to Vote Now 96.
Chagoury showed up on the fringes of another Clinton
administration effort at dialogue with the Nigerians shortly
afterward, in September 1995. Rice, then the NSC Africa
director, joined George Moose, assistant secretary of state for
African affairs and special envoy Donald McHenry at a secret
meeting with Nigerian officials in Geneva, officials said. An
NSC spokeswoman said Chagoury joined the delegation for
The U.S. tried private diplomacy again in August 1996,
sending then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) to meet with
Abacha. After the midnight meeting, according to an NSC
official, a Nigerian aide took Richardson to Chagoury's home
for pizza and a beer.
Staff researchers Mary Lou White and Nathan Abse
contributed to this report.
c Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company