NEW YORK — The headline in Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”
The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.
But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president but also a former US president and a woman who would like to be the next one.
At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of President Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed, and eventually sold to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.
Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of US government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Hillary Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
Shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank that had links to the Kremlin and that was promoting Uranium One stock.
The New York Times’s examination of the Uranium One deal is based on dozens of interviews, as well as a review of public records and securities filings in Canada, Russia, and the United States. Some of the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer, a former fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book “Clinton Cash.” Schweizer provided a preview of material in the book to the Times, which scrutinized his information and built upon it with its own reporting.
Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown. But the episode underscores the special 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 US foreign policy as secretary of state.
In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said no one “has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.”
He emphasized that multiple US agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled at a level below the secretary.
“To suggest the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue influence in the US government’s review of the sale of Uranium One is utterly baseless,” he added.
The path to a Russian acquisition of US uranium deposits began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Bill Clinton at his side.
The two men had flown aboard Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting US foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator.
Within days of the visit, 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.
In 2007, UrAsia merged with Uranium One, a South African company, in what was described as a $3.5 billion transaction. The new company, which kept the Uranium One name, was controlled by UrAsia investors including Ian Telfer, a Canadian.
Soon, Uranium One began to snap up mining companies with assets in the United States.