Here’s a fascinating politics/energy/international relations story that’s flying below the radar now, but feels as though it could get huge.
The news starts with Uranium One (UUU), a Toronto-listed uranium miner, whose shares plunged 38% on news that the Kazakhstan government was probing whether certain Kazakh mines it owns were acquired illegally. Specifically, it’s looking at potentially illegal asset sales by Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the former head of state-owned uranium miner Kazatomprom, who later sought favours from the man who sold the assets to, Frank Giustra, and Bill Clinton.
Reuters: [O]ne deal in question was the sale of a 30 per cent stake in the owner of the country’s largest uranium mine, Khorasan, although it did not specify the buyer. It said the stake was sold for 15.6 million tenge ($104,000)
Uranium One owns a 30 per cent stake in that mine, while a group of Japanese firms owns another 40 per cent. The rest is owned by Kazatomprom.
Uranium One said its Kazakh assets, which also include stakes in the Akdala and South Inkai mines, were acquired in 2005 by UrAsia Energy, which Uranium One bought in 2007.
Ok, so far so good. But who is UrAsia? The company was the subject of a NYT piece just last year that explored its close ties to Bill Clinton:
Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.
Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton….
Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.
The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said.
Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalised, Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra that had remained a secret until he acknowledged it last month.
So… The former President takes an unknown mining executive to Kazakhstan, the guy gets a huge deal, and then just a few months later donates $31.3 million to the Clinton foundation. Maybe that’s not so bad. After all, if the former President (who is a private citizen — although his wife is secretary of state) helped hook us up on a sweet uranium mining deal, we’d probably show him several million worth of gratitude too.
But if the deal was illegal — not just based on Clinton’s connections, but on actually breaking the laws of Kazakhstan — then it’s another story for both Clinton and Mr. Giustra (and now, by extension, publicly traded Uranium One). Especially if the guy who sold the mines did so because he was hoping to get some political favours in return.
Uranium One says it has did nothing wrong and that UrAsia payed full value for its stake. But perhaps Kazatomprom and its CEO Dzhakishev — who sold UrAsia the stake — had another angle.
Back to the NYT:
In February 2007, a company called Uranium One agreed to pay $3.1 billion to acquire UrAsia. Mr. Giustra, a director and major shareholder in UrAsia, would be paid $7.05 per share for a company that just two years earlier was trading at 10 cents per share.
That same month, Mr. Dzhakishev, the Kazatomprom chief [who sold Giustra the mining assets two years earlier], said he traveled to Chappaqua, N.Y., to meet with Mr. Clinton at his home. Mr. Dzhakishev said Mr. Giustra arranged the three-hour meeting. Mr. Dzhakishev said he wanted to discuss Kazakhstan’s intention — not publicly known at the time — to buy a 10 per cent stake in Westinghouse, a United States supplier of nuclear technology.
Nearly a year earlier, Mr. Clinton had advised Dubai on how to handle the political furor after one of that nation’s companies attempted to take over several American ports. Mrs. Clinton was among those on Capitol Hill who raised the national security concerns that helped kill the deal.
Mr. Dzhakishev said he was worried the proposed Westinghouse investment could face similar objections. Mr. Clinton told him that he would not lobby for him, but Mr. Dzhakishev came away pleased by the chance to promote his nation’s proposal to a former president.
Mr. Clinton “said this was very important for America,” said Mr. Dzhakishev, who added that Mr. Giustra was present at Mr. Clinton’s home.
Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Giustra at first denied that any such meeting occurred. Mr. Giustra also denied ever arranging for Kazakh officials to meet with Mr. Clinton. Wednesday, after The Times told them that others said a meeting, in Mr. Clinton’s home, had in fact taken place, both men acknowledged it.
Ah, denying a meeting took place and then “remembering” it. That’s not suspicious or anything.
It’s hard to see how this story doesn’t hook both Bill Clinton and Hillary if it doesn’t just go away quickly.
Below is a little memento from an event for the “Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative,” fittingly with both Canadian and US dollars behind it.