Local mining magnates drawn into American political arena

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Vancouver mining magnates Frank Giustra and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) chairman Ian Telfer made generous donations to former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s charitable organization at a time when the company they built was acquiring assets in Russia and the U.S., according to the New York Times.

The story suggests the donations may have helped Giustra and Telfer conclude deals that eventually resulted in the Canadian mining company, Uranium One, being acquired by the Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp. It suggests former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might have had a hand in approving the deal.

Several major U.S. media outlets have weighed in, saying there appears to be little, if any, evidence that Hillary Clinton would even have had knowledge of the deal.

Neither Telfer nor Giustra deny making donations to the Clinton Foundation, but insist there was no lobbying on their behalf from either Bill or Hillary Clinton as a result of the donations.

Telfer told Business in Vancouver that the timelines don’t line up to support the suggestion that Hillary Clinton – former U.S. Secretary of State – would have even been in a position to help his company. Telfer is the former chairman of Uranium One.

The Times story is based, in part, on connections made in a new book by Peter Schweizer between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation. Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, has not been published yet, but was previewed to select media outlets, including the New York Times.

The Times’ own reporting builds on Schweizer’s research and describes what has the appearance of back-door lobbying of a former U.S. president and his wife, Hillary Clinton – now running for president – by Canadian mining executives using charitable organizations on both side of the border.

The story details how Giustra donated more than US$30 million to the Clinton Foundation after his company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., acquired mining assets in Kazakhstan. Giustra exited the company in 2007.

The Times also details how Telfer personally donated up to $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and another $2.35 million through his family foundation, the Fernwood Foundation, to the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership.

As some observers have pointed out, there is no smoking gun that indicates either Bill or Hillary Clinton had any role in aiding the Canadian mining venture.

“Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown,” the Times states.

“But the episode underscores the special ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation, headed by a former president who relied heavily on foreign cash to accumulate $250 million in assets even as his wife helped steer American foreign policy as secretary of state, presiding over decisions with the potential to benefit the foundation’s donors.”

Giustra declined to be interviewed by Business in Vancouver but released a statement on ceo.ca in which he refutes many of the claims made in the story.

“This is not about me, but rather an attempt to tear down Secretary Clinton and her presidential campaign,” Giustra writes. “If this is what passes for investigative journalism in the United States, it is very sad.”

Giustra, who founded Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF) and the Radcliffe Foundation charitable organization, was the driving force behind a number of successful mining ventures, including UrAsia Energy Ltd., which was acquired in 2007 by Uranium One.

Uranium One is still headquartered in Toronto but is no longer a reporting issuer in Canada and is now fully owned by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp. It is now in the process of relocating its headquarters to Russia.

Telfer resigned as a director of Uranium One in February, according to Sedar filings.

According to the Times story, in 2005, Giustra flew former president Bill Clinton on his private jet to Kazakhstan – where UrAsia was finalizing plans to acquire a number of uranium assets – to meet the country’s president.

“Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom,” the Times states.

But according to Giustra, Clinton arrived “a few days after I arrived in the country on another person’s plane, not on my plane,” and his visit had nothing to do with Giustra’s mining deal.

“Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the purchase of private mining stakes by a Canadian company,” Giustra writes.

After the acquisition, Giustra donated US$31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation. After its acquisitions in Kazakhstan, UrAsia was acquired by Uranium One. Telfer became Uranium One’s executive chairman. He ceased being a director in February, after it was acquired by Rosatom.

Uranium One ended up owning uranium assets in the U.S. and since uranium is considered a national security concern, the acquisition of a company with American uranium assets by a Russian state-owned company would have required the approval of various state agencies, according to the Times, including the State Department, which was headed by Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2013.

Telfer said he made his pledge of $3 million to the Giustra-Clinton enterprise in 2008, prior to Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State. Over a period of years, after making the pledge, Telfer’s Fernwood Foundation has made a series of donations, now up to about $2.4 million, Telfer confirmed. Some of those donations would have been made while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

At the time of his pledge, Uranium One did not yet own the American uranium property (acquired in 2010) that would have become a concern to American officials, and Russia, at the time, was only a minority shareholder in Uranium One, Telfer said.

It was only after Uranium One acquired the American property, and the Russians became a majority shareholder, that it would have become an issue for American agencies, he told BIV.

“In 2008, when I made that pledge, Hillary Clinton was not Secretary of State – number one. When I made the donation, she was not Secretary of State, we did not own the property, and we did not have a majority Russian shareholder.

“I never spoke to her, and there was no lobbying. I never tried to influence anyone. There was nothing to influence. There was no Russians, no Hillary and no property when I made this pledge."

A number of American media outlets have pointed out that the State Department had only one vote on a nine-member committee that would have signed off on the sale of American uranium assets to the Russians.