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The Senate seems likely to confirm Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State soon, but there’s still a hang-up over contributions to her husband’s foundation. I’ve been trying to get answers from the foundation about one particularly controversial donor–Gilbert Chagoury, who is one of the very biggest contributors, having tossed in somewhere between $1 million and $5 million–but so far no information has been forthcoming.
A casual look at Chagoury’s website could leave you thinking he had a big wallet and a bigger heart. His noble missions include education scholarships in the U.S and abroad and his contributions to the Louvre. There’s a photo gallery of Chagoury with heads of state and religious leaders, and we learn that he serves as the economic adviser to the West African country of Benin
and as Saint Lucia’s ambassador to UNESCO. But what we don’t learn is that Chagoury has been involved in a number of major international scandals, and that he was especially close to Nigerian General Sani Abacha, who seized power in a coup and ruled from 1993 to 1998. During those years, Chagoury received oil concessions and large-scale government construction contracts, and allegedly offered Abacha help with his financial affairs.
After a civilian regime took charge, Chagoury reportedly paid the Nigerian government $300 million in exchange for a written agreement that he would not be prosecuted. It’s not exactly clear why St. Lucia bestowed him with the lofty title of its ambassador to UNESCO, but that conveniently granted him diplomatic immunity if any other country wanted to bring charges against him.
Though he is not a U.S. national and is legally barred from making political contributions here, Chagoury has an established record of using money to curry political favor. In 1996, when Bill Clinton was president and Abacha led Nigeria, Chagoury contributed $460,000 to Miami-based voter registration group that was supported by the Democratic National Committee. He later dined at the White House. The Wall Street Journal has reported on other family members who have made political contributions and according to that story:
In 2003, he helped organize a Caribbean trip where the former president was paid $100,000 for a speech… 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.
Chagoury is still very active in international business. Indeed, last year a Nigerian magazine reported that Chagoury had made a comeback in the country and was again receiving major construction contracts there. Ironically, his chief local backer was identified as a former anti-Abacha activist who had recently flown to Paris on Chagoury’s private plane.
Chagoury is just one of numerous controversial donors to the Clinton Foundation. It released the full list, in the name of transparency, after the topic surfaced in regard to Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary of State. But it would certainly be interesting to know more about Chagoury’s donations to the foundation–like precisely when he made them–and what appears to be a very active personal relationship with Bill Clinton.
My researcher Ellie Parkinson sent the Clinton Foundation an email a week ago. She asked for the exact date and amount of each of Chagoury’s contributions, and if the Clinton Foundation vetted donors. Furthermore, didn’t published reports about Chagoury’s ties to Abacha and corruption raise questions about the propriety of accepting his money? She also asked about Chagoury’s personal friendship with President Clinton (and if it extended to Senator Clinton) and if accepting donations from such controversial sources raised potential conflict of interest issues if Senator Clinton is confirmed. The foundation initially suggested it would reply to the request for information, but since then has provided nothing.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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