US Apologizes to Billionaire Added to Terror No-fly List

The United States has issued a written apology to a jet-setting billionaire businessman with close ties to former President Bill Clinton whose name was added to the no-fly list in the wake of the attempted Christmas day bombing of an American passenger plane.

Gilbert Chagoury, 64, a Nigerian citizen of Lebanese descent, was pulled off a private jet Jan. 15 at Teterboro airport in New Jersey and detained for more than four hours after federal agents discovered his name was on the then-recently updated no-fly list.

The private jet crew of two and four other passengers were detained for four-and-a-half hours while agents questioned Chagoury. He and the others were ultimately allowed to continue their trip to Paris.

"I think a huge mistake is an understatement," Chagoury said in a phone interview with and the Center for Public Integrity.

"I cannot accept being labeled a terrorist when I am known all over the world as a person who loves peace. It really hurt," he said.

It took Chagoury, a well-known philanthropist and an ambassador to the United Nations educational office, more than four months and thousands of dollars in legal fees to get the U.S. government to offer an apology and to give him a waiver to fly freely across U.S. airspace.

"Let us apologize for any inconvenience or unpleasantness you have experienced," wrote Jim Kennedy of the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program in an April letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.


"Please understand that in order to detect those international travelers involved in illicit activities, we must, at times, unfortunately inconvenience law-abiding travelers," the DHS official wrote to Chagoury in April.

The formal waiver allowing him, his family and private jet pilots to travel again to the U.S. was finally granted last week.

There was, however, no explanation of why Chagoury's name had ended up on the no-fly list in the first place.

"I don't know why me. I look at myself as a friend of America, I've always loved your country," said Chagoury.

Chagoury said he had regularly traveled to the United States without incident until this January.

Given the timing, it appears Chagoury was ensnared by changes in the criteria for the antiterrorism list after the failed bombing attempt.

The accused bomber grew up in Chagoury's homeland of Nigeria, and Chagoury said he was acquainted with the suspect's father, a Nigerian banker.

"He has always been a great banker and a very nice gentleman," said Chagoury of Abdulmutallab's father, who had gone to the U.S. Embassy to sound an alarm about his son's possible recruitment as a terrorist.

"Practically everybody knows everybody in the business community in Nigeria," Chagoury added.

Chagoury said the U.S. agents asked him, "Which bank do you bank with in Nigeria?"

He told them that his corporation did business with at least six or seven different banks in Nigeria, he said.

"I still believe it was personal and until I find out the answer I will really not be happy," Chagoury said, with anger in his voice.

To make matters worse for Chagoury, the incident received widespread international attention after it was first reported by ABC News, which cited official documents.

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