Spencer Abraham linked to Lebanon's Fares Family
Based on an article by Damon Chappie for the Roll Call, "the Newspaper of Capitol Hill since 1955"
The family of Lebanon's deputy prime minister, already under scrutiny for large donations to George W. Bush's inaugural committee and a speech payment to Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell, has strong ties to another Bush administration official, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham.
Abraham is the son of a Lebanese immigrant. During his Congressional career, Abraham pushed legislation to increase aid to Lebanon and acted as an advocate for politically active Arab-Americans.
Abraham has received political contributions from family members of and groups associated with Issam Fares, a wealthy Lebanese businessman who oversees a worldwide conglomerate of energy and real estate interests. Fares ascended to the post of deputy prime minister last year.
Questions about Fares' ties to U.S. politicians arose after the Bush inaugural committee reported a $100,000 donation from Fares and another $100,000 donation from his son, Nijad Fares, a Houston-based businessman with permanent resident status in the United States and a citizen of Lebanon.
After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.
Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon's interests. The family's main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.
A Bush official, describing the confusion over the listing of Issam Fares as a donor, noted that federal law doesn't bar donations from foreign nationals to groups like the inaugural committee but that it had voluntarily agreed to abide by federal election laws which do prohibit donations to political campaigns by foreign nationals.
During the last three election cycles, Nijad Fares and his wife gave $17,000 to Abraham's campaign and his leadership political action committee. Nijad Fares was also president of the American Task Force for Lebanon, and its PAC gave $7,500 to Abraham.
While foreign nationals are prohibited by law from contributing to U.S. campaigns, election law allows donations from persons with permanent resident status in the United States even though they are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections.
Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.
"Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,"he wrote. "Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues." The disclosures about the Fares family's contributions have alarmed some campaign finance watchdogs.
Abraham supported legislation to increase aid to Lebanon, a country trying to rebuild from a devastating civil war and occupation by Israel. Last year, Abraham secured an additional $3 million for Lebanon, boosting that country's annual aid package to $18 million. Abraham urged Congressional appropriators and the Clinton administration to raise Lebanon's yearly aid package to $256 million. In 1999, Abraham supported a $4 million earmark for educational institutions in Lebanon, including the International College, which has Nijad Fares as a board member.
A filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission listed Nijad Fares as a citizen of Lebanon and a director of the Wedge Group, which has his father, Issam Fares, as chairman. But Richard Blohm, general counsel for the Wedge Group, said in an interview that Nijad Fares has no connection to Wedge and that he is president of Link Group. He said the two companies are not housed together.
But Nijad Fares and the Link Group occupy offices in the Wedge Group's Houston skyscraper, according to Wedge's receptionist. Nijad Fares was travelling and did not respond to several phone messages.
A search of several databases found no information on the Link Group. Blohm said the Link Group is "a company wholly owned by Nijad Fares" and that it is involved with investments. Wedge Group, however, has extensive energy interests, holding an 80 percent stake in the oil service firm Howe-Baker, which was acquired in a complex transaction last December by Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., another energy firm in which Wedge holds a major stake.
Issam Fares, who serves as CEO of Wedge and a network of companies based in the Cayman Islands and the Netherlands, was named Lebanon's deputy prime minister last year and he has served in that country's parliament since 1996. His Web site describes him as an "empire-builder, philanthropist, politician and parliamentarian."
He has long enjoyed close ties to former President George Bush and was Bush's
guest at last year's Gridiron dinner. An endowment at Tufts University has paid for
speeches by the elder Bush as well as a $59,500 speech in November by Powell.
According to the Jerusalem Post, which first reported the payment to Powell, Fares
said in a statement after the story that he was happy with the "noble relationship"
linking him with several political leaders in the United States and added: "If the
Zionist lobby and those revolving in its orbit are displeased with this relationship, it's
their own business. Anyway, envy is a killer."
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