The Clin­tons’ Cana­dian buddy

He’s son of a Sud­bury miner, a bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist and min­ing mogul. But just who is Frank Gius­tra?

Toronto Star - - Business - LISA WRIGHT BUSI­NESS RE­PORTER

He’s su­per wealthy, su­per suc­cess­ful and su­per con­nected.

And while he’s one of Canada’s best known min­ing fi­nanciers, he’s also su­per private, al­though it’s hard to keep a low profile when Bill Clin­ton is one of your clos­est pals and seeks a re­turn to the White House through his wife Hil­lary’s quest for the pres­i­dency.

So just who is Frank Gius­tra, the über mogul whose char­ity do­nated $31.3 mil­lion (U.S.) to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and who per­son­ally pledged $100 mil­lion last sum­mer — plus half his fu­ture in­come — to the phil­an­thropic ven­ture he is work­ing on with the for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent?

Given that he’s a mem­ber of Clin­ton’s pres­ti­gious in­ner cir­cle, a lot of peo­ple want to know.

The son of a Sud­bury miner, the 50-year-old min­ing and movie mag­nate amassed a for­tune over the past 25 years as a deal­maker in the glam­orous and rugged world of gold and other met­als. Gius­tra also went Hol­ly­wood for a while, cre­at­ing in­de­pen­dent film ti­tan Li­ons Gate En­ter­tain­ment in 1997 af­ter head­ing up York­ton Se­cu­ri­ties, where his re­puted Mi­das touch helped raise $3 bil­lion in eq­uity for the re­source sec­tor in the 1990s.

He re­turned to the lu­cra­tive min­ing fi­nance game in 2001 at B.C. firm En­deav­our Fi­nan­cial Corp. and along with busi­ness part­ner and friend Ian Telfer took small fish Wheaton River Min­er­als into the big leagues in a merger with Gold­corp Inc., the world’s third largest gold miner with a mar­ket cap of nearly $30 bil­lion due largely to the ris­ing gold price.

“We’ve been part­ners since 2001 and we both be­lieved the price of gold was go­ing way up. I’d say Frank’s be­lief was even stronger than mine and he was right,” noted Telfer of gold’s me­te­oric rise above $900 (U.S.) an ounce.

The dy­namic duo still sit on the board of Peak Gold Ltd., a spinoff of Gold­corp, and thanks to Gius­tra’s enor­mous suc­cess mak­ing gold and ura­nium deals in the cur­rent re­sources bull run he’s now heav­ily into cor­po­rate phi­lan­thropy.

En­ter Bill Clin­ton. He and Gius­tra struck up a friend­ship af­ter meet­ing a few years ago to help with the tsunami re­lief ef­fort, ac­cord­ing to Van­cou­ver press re­ports.

Now they’re such good pals that Gius­tra loans him his MD-87 jet and has ac­com­pa­nied Clin­ton on trips around the world. He even threw Clin­ton a star-stud­ded 60th birth­day bash in 2006 at the Fair­mont Royal York Ho­tel that was em­ceed by ac­tor Kevin Spacey and in­cluded ap­pear­ances by Billy Crys­tal and Bon Jovi.

The diminu­tive Ital­ian Cana­dian is also a mem­ber of the board of trustees of the William J. Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, the char­i­ta­ble ven­ture Clin­ton launched af­ter he left the oval of­fice. Gius­tra made the con­tro­ver­sial $31 mil­lion do­na­tion to that foun­da­tion through his own char­i­ta­ble group, the Rad­cliffe Foun­da­tion. The Toronto birth­day party also raised $21 mil­lion for the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion.

Gius­tra is a di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, an in­de­pen­dent, non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, es­tab­lished to pre­vent and re­solve global con­flicts. He was one of four chairs of the 2006 Global Lead­er­ship Awards din­ner in New York where Clin­ton was hon­oured along with for­mer United Na­tions Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Kofi An­nan.

Some­how the high-fly­ing Clin­ton con­nec­tion has Gius­tra, renowned for be­ing reclu­sive, lay­ing even lower lately, par­tic­u­larly given that the U.S. me­dia is comb­ing over all the Clin­ton con­nec­tions while Hil­lary’s bid for the Demo­cratic party nom­i­na­tion switches into high gear. In fact he has made a point of shun­ning the lime­light while plan­ning a splashy shindig and fundraiser that he and Clin­ton are set to throw next month at the Westin Har­bour Cas­tle fea­tur­ing El­ton John, Shakira, Bur­ton Cum­mings and Robin Wil­liams.

Through­hisspokesm­an­heturned down re­quests for an in­ter­view with the Star. Mean­while po­lit­i­cal re­porters for the U.S. press, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Newsweek and the Wall Street Jour­nal, fol­low­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign have ap­par­ently been sniff­ing around the Van­cou­ver busi­ness com­mu­nity try­ing to get in­sights into the life of her hubby’s Cana­dian buddy.

His wife of seven years, Alison Law­ton, is a hu­man rights ac­tivist and pro­ducer of doc­u­men­tary films on hu­man­i­tar­ian crises. She has also worked with Bill Clin­ton on hu­man rights ef­forts re­lated to the civil war in Uganda and made a doc­u­men­tary on the con­flict there called “Uganda Ris­ing.”

In 2006 Gius­tra and Law­ton held a $10,000-a-cou­ple fundraiser for tsunami-re­lated re­lief at their pala­tial 12,000-square-foot wa­ter­front digs in West Van­cou­ver, rais­ing $1.7 mil­lion.

In pre­vi­ous me­dia in­ter­views Gius­tra has cred­ited Law­ton’s pas­sion for so­cial causes with en­cour­ag­ing his ma­jor foray into phi­lan­thropy. But the for­mer mu­sic stu­dent and trum­pet player prefers not to toot his own horn de­spite fork­ing over a for­tune to char­i­ta­ble causes in re­cent years.

“He’s a private guy. He’s press shy,” says one in­dus­try vet­eran who did not wish to be named, adding: “He has never put him­self up as a pub­lic spokesper­son.”

“He cer­tainly was high profile and well known even be­fore he strapped on Clin­ton,” jokes an­a­lyst Barry Al­lan of Re­search Cap­i­tal Corp. “He seems to be a steady, smart busi­ness per­son who con­tin­ues to de­liver the goods.” Last week Gius­tra ac­tu­ally stepped out of char­ac­ter and re­sponded to a lengthy New York Times ar­ti­cle that sug­gested Clin­ton went to bat for the Cana­dian busi­ness ty­coon with the Kaza­khstan pres­i­dent, which helped pave the way for a mas­sive ura­nium min­ing deal that ended up be­ing very lu­cra­tive for Gius­tra. Months later he made the siz­able do­na­tion to Clin­ton’s foun­da­tion.

“The re­cent sug­ges­tion that my char­i­ta­ble sup­port for the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion is in some way con­nected to my per­sonal busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties is false. My ca­reer in the min­ing in­dus­try spans 25 years and 40 coun­tries. It also has brought me great per­sonal for­tune. The suc­cess of my ca­reer over my life­time has not been the re­sult of my re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Clin­ton over the last two and a half years,” he said in a state­ment. “The true suc­cess of my re­la­tion­ship with the for­mer pres­i­dent is that I have been per­son­ally in­spired to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease the scale of my phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­ity to the point that I am now plan­ning to give away the bulk of my per­sonal for­tune and all my fu­ture earn­ings to nu­mer­ous char­i­ta­ble causes be­yond just the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion. More­over, the for­mer pres­i­dent did not play a role in a busi­ness deal I ne­go­ti­ated in Kaza­khstan in 2005. I have been do­ing busi­ness in Kaza­khstan for more than a decade, and had been work­ing on this deal and trav­el­ling to that coun­try long be­fore I even met Pres­i­dent Clin­ton.

“It should come as no sur­prise that busi­ness deals do not hap­pen in a day; this deal, in fact, had been un­der­way for al­most a year and was sub­stan­tially com­pleted be­fore Pres­i­dent Clin­ton even ar­rived in Kaza­khstan,” says the email sent by Gius­tra’s spokesman.

Mean­while the Toronto fundraiser sched­uled for March 1 in Toronto — the week­end the an­nual con­ven­tion of the Prospec­tors and De­vel­op­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada kicks off — will be hosted by Eu­gene Levy. Ta­bles, rang­ing in price from $25,000 to $300,000, are sell­ing like hot­cakes on Bay St.

They’re rais­ing mega bucks for the Clin­ton Gius­tra Sus­tain­able Growth Ini­tia­tive, whose fo­cus is to al­le­vi­ate poverty in ar­eas of the de­vel­op­ing world af­fected by min­ing. So far it’s raised more than $300 mil­lion as other in­ter­ested min­ing com­pa­nies join the cam­paign.

One of the peo­ple go­ing to the gala will be his old friend and busi­ness as­so­ci­ate Gene McBur­ney of GMP Cap­i­tal, whose firm bought a ta­ble for the din­ner ex­trav­a­ganza.

He de­scribes Gius­tra as a guy who’s “ob­vi­ously ac­com­plished and puts his money where his mouth is. There’s no smoke and mir­rors on that. He’s do­ing the phil­an­thropic thing.” When asked about the Clin­ton con­nec­tion, McBur­ney joked: “He gave $100 mil­lion to (the Clin­tonGius­tra ini­tia­tive) so I guess he’s more than a buddy,” im­ply­ing they’re in fact good friends.

“All of my chips, al­most, are on Bill Clin­ton,” Gius­tra once said in a New Yorker ar­ti­cle. “He’s a brand, a world­wide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can.”

FRANK FRANKLIN II/AP PHOTO

For­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton looks on as Frank Gius­tra speaks at a news con­fer­ence in New York last June.

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