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Man With Nigeria Ties at Clinton Dinner

   ...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
   the dinner.
   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
   union conventions.
   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
   toward democracy.
   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