The President, the dictator and a $9m demand for Oval Office chat

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The Independent US

The episode was revealed in documents released by a senate committee investigating other dubious dealings of the scandal-battered Mr Abramoff, most vividly a personal letter from the lobbyist to President Omar Bongo, dated 28 July 2003. Mr Abramoff informed the Gabonese leader that his lobbying firm had already been approached by "a neighbouring nation" which had offered money to launch a major lobbying effort in Washington, its centrepiece a meeting with Mr Bush.

But Mr Abramoff wrote that he had been assured that Gabon still wanted to use the services of his firm, and would match its neighbour's offer.

The documents, obtained by leading US newspapers, show that the lobbyist drew up a draft contract for Gabon to pay $9m to the privilege.

There is no evidence that the deal was consummated, and no suggestion that Mr Abramoff had any role in organising the Oval Office meeting between Mr Bush and President Bongo, on 26 May 2004, 10 months after the initial pitch. But the allegation will add to the atmosphere of sleaze now surrounding the Republican party establishment in Washington.

It also throws fascinating light on the brazen modus operandi of super-rich lobbyists such as Mr Abramoff, as they traded on their connections with senior figures in the administration and Congress to bring in lucrative new business.

In the letter, according to excerpts in the Washington Post, Mr Abramoff proposed flying to Gabon after a mid-August golfing trip to Scotland with "the Congressmen and Senators I take there each year". But, he made clear, Gabon would have pay a part, "perhaps 10 per cent", of the agreed fee up front.

And if the lobbyist did travel to Africa, it would be in a private aircraft "which bears a substantial cost, unfortunately", also to be paid up front.

Politely, Mr Abramoff made clear that he would take his talents elsewhere if Gabon did put money on the table. "I would be quite unpopular at my firm if I were to forgo a multimillion-dollar form offer on the hope of a similar opportunity elsewhere."

The letter ends "with high regard and much admiration ... sincerely yours, Jack Abramoff, Senior Director, Government Affairs".

The missive was among documents released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating how Mr Abramoff and an associate extracted more than $66m from various native American tribes anxious to protect their gambling businesses. He is said to have described his clients as "monkeys", "troglodytes" and "idiots".

But the lobbyist's problems do not end there. Months ago, he was charged with wire fraud in connection with a 2000 deal involving floating casinos in Florida.

In the summer, Timothy Flanigan, President Bush's nomination as deputy attorney general, was forced to withdraw after his ties with Mr Abramoff were revealed.

Most damaging of all perhaps, David Safavian, a former registered agent for President Bongo in Washington, was forced to resign as a White House budget official days before he was charged with lying to federal agents about his own links to the lobbyist.

Though there is no evidence that Mr Abramoff set up the meeting between presidents Bush and Bongo, there are plenty of precedents. Billy Carter was a lobbyist for Libya when his brother Jimmy was President in the 1970s. Small countries regularly engage lobbyists to boost their profile in Washington.