Lebanon’s Chidiac’s Hawaii Ties

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - October 24, 2007
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Charles Chidiac
Charles Chidiac

One of the first friends I made when I came to Hawaii in 1963 was a University of Hawaii graduate political science student from Lebanon who was living in Waikiki.

His name is Charles Chidiac, or more properly Sheikh Charles Camille el-Chidiac, and he’s now a candidate for president of Lebanon. If you think you recognize the name, it’s because he became something of a celebrity here after his UH days.

He was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the BNL banking scandal about laundered money for arms deals. He was named as a party to the Gene and Nora Lum organization that fed illegal campaign contributions to major politicians in Hawaii and California, and to Bill Clinton’s campaign. He headed up the failed Palace Development Corp., which sought to build a luxury resort in Ka’u on the Big Island. He went public with allegations of planning-and-zoning bribery in the administration of John Waihee.

Many people in Hawaii will recall Chidiac as the gregarious, political hanger-on who wined and dined the power elite of the state while running through, a lender’s lawsuit claimed, $40 million while pushing that proposed Hawaiian Riviera Resort in the late ‘80s. He also represented Arab buyers trying to buy hotel properties in Waikiki. They backed out when they discovered everything for sale was lease, not fee simple.

Chidiac came to the FBI’s attention because of his relationship with the localite Lums, who would be convicted of arranging illegal Asian campaign contributions. He told PBS’s Frontline this about Cora Lum:

“I was told that this woman and her husband can fix anything in Hawaii, so I hired her to advise me how to work in this corrupt system and help me out with my zoning. I needed to get the zoning. ... so I gave her $50,000 in cash and she said ‘I’ll get you the approval in two months.‘And she said - she told me she’s going to pay several guys - some of the, you know, power people in the state, and she’ll get it to me in two months.”

He didn’t get it, but as he tried he tossed a lavish party at his home fronting the Waialae Country Club and invited many of Hawaii’s heavy hitters, including the late State Supreme Court Justice Frank Padgett. Lots of booze and unattached young women.

I knew Chidiac here, in London and in his home city of Beirut. One of his hatreds was of the Syrians, who had set up military residence in Lebanon. I remember a swank party at his London home where he insulted Syria. The Syrian ambassador, who was at my table, left in a huff.

But politics is politics. Now that Chidiac is running for Lebanese president, he’s calling for “evaluation and correction of the causes behind the deterioration in the relationship” with Syria.

He e-mailed me recently that “I thought maybe now we could better our relations with Syria by developing joint large touristic projects. As you well know in Hawaii, tourism brings new visions to isolated people, whether they live in a distant island or isolated by a regime. Connecting Syria with Lebanon thru large touristic projects will expose the Syrian people to change, and eventually bring democracy to its people.”

Chidiac is the founder in 2003 and president of the Republican Reform Party. He says the party’s principal goal is to create a Lebanon “that will practice democracy in accordance with the principles established by America, Europe and Russia.”

Chidiac is a Christian in a multi-religion country of Arabs but where by law the president must be a Christian. When Chidiac was a student at the UH he was troubled about our criminals, and his idea was to execute them and let their bodies hang from the utility poles in Waikiki.

He met and married local girl Mary Sherrill Eagle, daughter of businessman Jack Eagle. They eventually divorced. She came back here and started a literary agency. She died after an illness in 2005.

When Chidiac made his corruption allegations against Gov. Waihee’s state planning office, here’s what he told PBS’s Frontline:

CHIDIAC: Well, if you want to do business in Hawaii, you go and you apply for a zoning. You get a call from an attorney. And

he says, “I want to see you.”

“About what?”

“Oh, I want to talk about your application.” ...

“But I already have an attorney.”

“It’s necessary to see you anyway.” So he comes over and he says, “Listen, you applied. This attorney of yours is no good. If you don’t hire me, you’ll never get your zoning ...”

So, that’s how they do it. It’s called in Hawaii “law firming,” instead of laundering.

FRONTLINE: In other words, bribery?

CHIDIAC: Pure, pure bribery ... under the cover of being legal work.

Nothing ever came of those allegations.

Chidiac lists himself as remarried with four children.

He wants to succeed Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, whose term ends next month.

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