The Clintons’ Canadian buddy
He’s son of a Sudbury miner, a billionaire philanthropist and mining mogul. But just who is Frank Giustra?
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.”
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton looks on as Frank Giustra speaks at a news conference in New York last June.