NY Times failed to note Giustra reportedly involved in Kazakhstan mining deals more than a decade ago

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS & JEREMY SCHULMAN

In an article about former President Bill Clinton's September 2005 trip to Kazakhstan with Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, The New York Times suggested that Giustra was able to secure agreements giving his company the right to buy into Kazakh mining projects because of his connection to Clinton. The Times did not note that Giustra was reportedly involved in Kazakh mining deals more than a decade ago.

In a January 31 New York Times article reporting on former President Bill Clinton's September 2005 trip to Kazakhstan with Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, staff writers Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. reported that "[w]ithin 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." Throughout the article, the Times suggested that Giustra would not have been able to win the agreements without his connection to Clinton. For instance, the article stated in its second paragraph: "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." At no point in the article, however, did the Times note that Giustra was reportedly involved in Kazakh mining deals at least as far back as the mid-1990s, undermining the article's suggestion that Giustra needed to tap his Clinton connection to do business in Kazakhstan.

The May 31, 1996, edition of The Financial Post (Canada) identified Giustra as Yorkton Securities' "chief executive." According to the May 2, 1996, edition of The Financial Post, Yorkton Securities was the "sole underwriter of KazMinCo's [Kazakhstan Minerals Corp.] recent US$23.5-million financing." The January 19, 1996, edition of The Globe and Mail (Canada) reported that Kazakhstan Minerals Corp. "is redrilling the Samarskoye copper and gold mineral deposit [in central Kazakhstan], which was extensively explored by state geologists of the former Soviet Union." The article further reported: "In total, the company has seven joint-venture agreements with private companies. Five drilling rigs are operating at Samarskoye and 11 others are operating at its other projects in the country."

Moreover, a September 4, 1995, article in Maclean's (Toronto edition) reported that Tony Williams, the head of Yorkton's London office, was "in the process of putting a complicated but potentially promising gold-mining deal together deep in the heart of Kazakhstan, one of the more obscure former Soviet republics." Williams subsequently became chairman of Kazakhstan Minerals Corp., according to the May 2, 1996, Financial Post.

The Times did report that Giustra had previously invested in gold mines in "Argentina, Australia and Mexico" but neglected to mention Giustra's reported previous involvement in Kazakh mining deals in the 1990s.

From the January 31 New York Times article:

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.

[...]

A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president knew that Mr. Giustra had mining interests in Kazakhstan but was unaware of "any particular efforts" and did nothing to help. Mr. Giustra said he was there as an "observer only" and there was "no discussion" of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton.

But Moukhtar Dzhakishev, president of Kazatomprom, said in an interview that Mr. Giustra did discuss it, directly with the Kazakh president, and that his friendship with Mr. Clinton "of course made an impression." Mr. Dzhakishev added that Kazatomprom chose to form a partnership with Mr. Giustra's company based solely on the merits of its offer.

After The Times told Mr. Giustra that others said he had discussed the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev, Mr. Giustra responded that he "may well have mentioned my general interest in the Kazakhstan mining business to him, but I did not discuss the ongoing" efforts.

[...]

Mr. Giustra foresaw a bull market in gold and began investing in mines in Argentina, Australia and Mexico. He turned a $20 million shell company into a powerhouse that, after a $2.4 billion merger with Goldcorp Inc., became Canada's second-largest gold company.

[...]

Exploding demand for energy had helped revitalize the nuclear power industry, and uranium, the raw material for reactor fuel, was about to become a hot commodity. In late 2004, Mr. Giustra began talking to investors, and put together a company that would eventually be called UrAsia Energy Ltd.

Kazakhstan, which has about one-fifth of the world's uranium reserves, was the place to be. But with plenty of suitors, Kazatomprom could be picky about its partners.

"Everyone was asking Kazatomprom to the dance," said Fadi Shadid, a senior stock analyst covering the uranium industry for Friedman Billings Ramsey, an investment bank. "A second-tier junior player like UrAsia -- you'd need all the help you could get."

[...]

Longtime market watchers were confounded. Kazatomprom's choice of UrAsia was a "mystery," said Gene Clark, the chief executive of Trade Tech, a uranium industry newsletter.

"UrAsia was able to jump-start the whole process somehow," Mr. Clark said. The company became a "major uranium producer when it didn't even exist before."

From the May 2, 1996, edition of The Financial Post:

Kazakhstan is a bit of an enigma in the mining world. Investors can't decide whether the mineral-rich former Soviet republic represents a golden opportunity, or spells risk with a capital 'k.'

Kazakhstan Minerals Corp., which made its debut on the Toronto Stock Exchange this week, could prove to be a good test case of the country's attractiveness as a place to invest Western mining capital.

KazMinCo has a 49% to 50% interest in one silver and eight gold/copper properties, all of which are in advanced stages of exploration. The company says it expects to have four world-class projects in operation within three years.

''Several of the deposits are absolute world leaders,'' says mining analyst Bruce Reid of Yorkton Securities Inc. Yorkton, which was the sole underwriter of KazMinCo's recent US$23.5-million financing, estimates the company's share of the total resource on all properties to be 4.5 million ounces of gold and 6.7 billion pounds of copper, and growing.

KazMinCo was packaged last fall out of a Yukon-based shell and made a splash when its shares began trading over the counter on the Canadian Dealing Network (KMCO/CDN). The shares quickly climbed from US$3.50 to the US$9 range and held that level until yearend.

From the January 19, 1996, edition of The Globe and Mail:

The market capitalization of Kazakhstan Minerals Corp. has soared on the Canadian Dealing Network to $331-million (U.S.) as the shares put on yet another spurt, rising $2.50 yesterday to $11.25 after the release of what one investment dealer described as "spectacular" results.

The London-based, Canadian-incorporated company is redrilling the Samarskoye copper and gold mineral deposit, which was extensively explored by state geologists of the former Soviet Union.

The deposit is in central Kazakhstan, the central Asian country that already ranks seventh in world copper production. It is estimated to contain 2.1 million ounces of gold and 1.5 million tonnes of copper based on those earlier studies.

It is just one of nine properties that have been assembled by Kazakhstan Minerals, which raised $25-million last month to finance the exploration. That could rise by another $25-million if outstanding warrants are exercised.

Over all, Kazakhstan Minerals' share of those properties is about 3.3-billion pounds of copper and 4.5 million ounces of gold, according to the Soviet estimates. Copper traded yesterday at $1.18 a pound and gold at $397.40 an ounce.

In total, the company has seven joint-venture agreements with private companies. Five drilling rigs are operating at Samarskoye and 11 others are operating at its other projects in the country.

From the September 4, 1995, edition of Maclean's:

Ever since the Big Six banks absorbed the country's major investment houses, the few remaining independents have struggled to find a new mandate for themselves. Some have become boutique operations, catering to garlands of wealthy clients others -- like Bay Street's Gordon Capital -- have specialized in block trades, while a few -- such as Richardson Greenshields -- have stayed alive by relying on their retail networks.

But faced with the undiminished clout of the bank-run institutions that now dominate stock trades, most of the remaining independents have moved to occupy niche markets, none more successfully than Vancouver's Yorkton Securities Inc., which has become the country's leading financial facilitator of the world's burgeoning mining industry. Yorkton, which is nominally headquartered in Toronto, is really run out of its Vancouver office, which houses the bulk of its 400 employees. The firm is currently financing the hunt for ''elephant-size'' mineral deposits in 35 countries, mainly though its overseas offices in Zurich, London, Paris and Santiago, Chile. Yorkton's Chairman Frank Giustra is based in Vancouver but, while he admires the Vancouver Stock Exchange as a source of venture capital, he has conscientiously stayed away from its seamier aspects. ''The problem,'' he told me in an interview last week, ''is not so much with policing its operations as with the way some brokerage companies conduct themselves. If they didn't allow questionable types of business to be transacted on the VSE, it wouldn't be there. It's as simple as that.''

[...]

While Giustra heads Yorkton, none of the 75 shareholders (including Giustra) owns more than 10 percent of its shares. A good many of those are geologists, accountants, economists and corporate finance specialists who spend their professional lives earning for Yorkton what the firm's chairman describes as ''our franchise as the brokerage world's best and largest natural resource group.'' Instead of waiting around for prospectors to arrive with big dreams and small claims, the Yorkton operatives dispatch due diligence teams to some pretty obscure corners, searching for new mines. ''Just once,'' complains Giustra, ''just once, I wish somebody would discover a deposit in Tuscany or the French Riviera. We seem to be always finding mines in the most bizarre places.'' Tony Williams, the capable geologist who heads Yorkton's London office, for example, is in the process of putting a complicated but potentially promising gold-mining deal together deep in the heart of Kazakhstan, one of the more obscure former Soviet republics.

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