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A United States federal grand jury has indicted Nebraska Republican Representative, Jeff Fortenberry, on charges of lying and misleading federal investigators about illegal campaign contributions tied to his 2016 campaign for Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reports that charges issued on Tuesday alleged that Mr Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during a federal investigation into $30,000 of contributions to his re-election campaign made by Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury.

Foreign nationals are barred from donating to U.S. elections.

Mr Fortenberry pledged to fight the charges, asked for prayers from his constituents and called the charges “wrong on so many levels.”

In a video posted on Tuesday, Mr Fortenberry said that roughly 2½ years ago, he received a knock on his door and spoke to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents from California asking about the 2016 fundraiser.

The charges issued on Tuesday allege Mr. Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during a federal investigation into $30,000 of contributions to his re-election campaign made by Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. Foreign nationals are barred from donating to U.S. elections.

Mr. Fortenberry pledged to fight the charges, asked for prayers from his constituents and called the charges “wrong on so many levels.”

In a video posted early Tuesday, Mr. Fortenberry said that roughly 2½ years ago, he received a knock on his door and spoke to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents from California asking about the 2016 fundraiser.

“I let them in my house, I answered their questions,” he sad in the video, shot selfie-style in a 1963 Ford F100 pickup truck in a cornfield with his wife and dog.

“They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me of this. We’re shocked, we’re stunned, I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help.”

The indictment alleges that the money was contributed through other individuals during a Los Angeles campaign fundraiser.

Federal officials were aided in their investigation by the co-host of the fundraiser, referred to as “Individual H” in the indictment, who began cooperating with FBI and IRS authorities in September 2016.

Mr Fortenberry, who has represented the eastern part of Nebraska in Congress since 2005, contacted the co-host in June 2018 about hosting another fundraiser, according to the indictment.

The co-host told the congressmen at that time that money raised on the earlier occasion “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury.”

The lawmaker didn’t file an amended report with the Federal Election Commission at that time, according to the indictment, which alleges that Mr Fortenberry instead “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device” material facts about the illegal campaign contribution.

The Congressman serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. House GOP Conference rules state that a member who is indicted on a felony charge that could result in more than two years of possible jail term must resign from committee posts.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) didn’t return a request for comment.

Mr Chagoury is a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who currently lives on Paris, France.

Gilbert Chagoury

Chagoury Named In Other Violations

Earlier, he and two of his associates had agreed to resolve a federal investigation that they conspired to violate federal election laws by scheming to make illegal campaign contributions to U.S. presidential and congressional candidates.

Chagoury, 75, was said to have paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations that he, with the assistance of others, provided approximately $180,000 to individuals in the United States that was used to make contributions to four different federal political candidates in U.S. elections.

 Mr Chagoury, a foreign national, is prohibited by US federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections.

He however, admitted he intended the funds would be used to make contributions to these candidates. He further admitted to making illegal conduit contributions – causing campaign contributions to be made in the name of another individual.

According to a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, Chagoury accepted responsibility for his role and conduct that resulted in violations of federal election contribution laws between June 2012 and March 2016 and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.

He entered into the agreement on October 19, 2019, and he paid the fine in December 2019.

Federal prosecutors, it was gathered, 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.

Chagoury Under Abacha Regime

The Chagoury family was a key partner of the late dictator, Sani Abacha. Its patriarch, Rene Chagoury, immigrated to Nigeria from the north Lebanese village of Miziara and prospered as he and his family developed flour mills and a modest construction business.

Among Rene Chagoury’s five sons, the oldest, Gilbert, according to sources, had befriended Abacha as early as the 1970s.

After Abacha took power in 1993, Gilbert Chagoury became a familiar figure at the presidential villa, and the family’s businesses began mushrooming.

The family’s flagship firm, Chagoury & Chagoury, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of a push to develop Nigeria’s half-constructed capital, Abuja.

The firm built such key installations as a secretariat to house numerous government ministries and the headquarters of the secret police force, the Special Security Service.

Nuhu Ribadu had in 2004 described Gilbert Chagoury, who was a close ally go the head of state, as the kingpin that defined corruption under the Abacha era.

The Chagourys are said to be the owners of the Eko Hotels and Suites and reports has it that he is close to former Lagos Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is nursing the ambition to be Nigeria’s next President.

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