His support for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee, founded by actor Danny Thomas, also of Lebanese descent, has won him several humanitarian awards. He and his wife have donated to the Louvre Museum in Paris and by the mid-1990s they also became major supporters of Bill Clinton.
Chagoury attended a December 1996 dinner at the White House after donating nearly a half million dollars to a Democratic Party-backed voter registration group. His political donation became the subject of scrutiny during the fund-raising investigation into unlimited "soft money" donations in the 1996 election and the system of donor rewards created by the Clintons. Non-US citizens may not contribute to individual candidates but are allowed to make contributions to get-out-the vote organizations.
Chagoury's relationship, however, continued with the Clintons. He donated at least $1 million to Clinton's presidential library and last year made a historic $1 billion commitment to Clinton's global initiative to help combat climate change-related erosion in Africa.
Chagoury said he had never contacted former President Clinton or his other powerful friends to help him with his no-fly list problem. "I am ashamed to call any of my friends and tell them this thing is happening," Chagoury said.
Along the way, Chagoury has won audiences with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, former President Ronald Reagan and other world leaders. In 1995, the Caribbean island of St. Lucia named Chagoury to be its permanent ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
And with global fame and wealth came controversy. Chagoury was identified in a Wall Street Journal article as having close ties to former Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha during the years he landed lucrative business contracts in that country. After Gen. Abacha died in 1998, Swiss and other European authorities froze a number of bank accounts, including some related to Chagoury. The matter was settled and he has never been charged with any wrongdoing.
Additional reporting by Rhonda Schwartz and Aaron Mehta
John Solomon and Aaron Mehta are reporters with the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.