Reports by Peoples Gazette has revealed how Gilbert Chagoury, the owner of Eko Hotel and key financier of Eko Atlantic project, paid $1.8 million in fines to the United States after he was indicted on charges of violating the country’s election laws, banned from entering U.S. and suspected of funding terrorism.
The 75-year-old Chagoury, the report said, was fined $1.8 million by the U.S. Department of Justice after conniving with some associates to make illegal campaign contributions to at least four political candidates between June 2012 and March 2016.
The Nigerian-Lebanese businessman, according to a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, admitted making the illegal contributions to interfere in an election and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation into the scandal.
He was said to have entered into the agreement on October 19, 2019, and settled the fines in December 2019.
The country’s Department of Justice said in a release late March:
Federal prosecutors entered into the deferred prosecution agreement considering, among other factors, Chagoury’s unique assistance to the U.S. government, his payment of a fine, Chagoury’s acceptance of responsibility for his actions, and his residence outside the United States.
Also, Chagoury’s associates identified as Joseph Arsan and Toufic Joseph Baaklini, agreed to resolve allegations that they violated campaign contribution laws by assisting Mr Chagoury in his illegal contributions.
The businessman has for decades been friends with Hillary and Bill Clinton and known to have contributed millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, it was learnt.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the relationship was strong enough for Clinton’s closest aide to push for Mr. Chagoury to get access to top diplomats.
Presumably as payback for his generous donations to their political and social interests, the Clintons have also helped Mr Chagoury promote his bankable Eko Atlantic project.
Meanwhile, government agencies were said to be examining accusations that he had unsavory affiliations based on his activities and friendships in Lebanon.
Mr Chagoury was denied a visa amidst raging allegations of his ties with Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group long blacklisted by the U.S., In 2015, when Ms Clinton ran for president.
LA Times reported that these claims were made based on a 2013 intelligence report from the FBI which claimed that the billionaire sent funds to Michel Aoun, a Lebanese Christian politician who served as army commander and prime minister during the country’s civil war.
Mr Aoun was said to have transferred the funds to Hezbollah.A source told the newspaper at the time that he was “facilitating fundraising for Hezbollah.”
The U.S. put Mr Chagoury in its database used to screen travelers for possible links to terrorism, the outlet said citing an internal government memo on the watchlist.
In the meantime, Peoples Gazette said that Mr Chagoury did not return an email seeking comments from about his indictment in the U.S. and the heavy fines slammed on him. But he had strongly denied any ties to terrorist groups, and has long been known to make generous donations to Christian organisations in Nigeria, Lebanon and other places.
In September 2016, Mr Chagoury, while seeking to clear his name, sued the FBI and other U.S. agencies to claim damages to his reputation.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Lebanese couple, he has long been reported as top insider in the regime of brutal and corrupt dictator, Sani Abacha. A large chunk of Mr Abacha’s loot was reportedly traced to Mr Chagoury’s businesses and bank accounts.
Whereas Mr Chagoury insisted he did not know he was laundering stolen public funds for Abacha when former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, went after him and other conduits used by the late dictator, he nonetheless returned about $65 million to Nigeria and paid roughly $600,000 in fines over the plunder.