Bill Clinton was planning a charity trip to Latin America and needed a big plane.
For Frank Giustra, who had never met the former president, this was an opportunity. The Canadian mining magnate and onetime Hollywood studio owner stepped up to let the former president borrow his luxurious passenger jet. There was just one condition: Giustra would come along for the ride.
That 2005 trip was the start of an intense, mutually beneficial friendship — one that has helped propel the Clinton Foundation into a global giant and established Giustra’s reputation as an international philanthropist while helping him build connections in countries where his business was expanding.
Giustra has since committed more than $100 million to the work of the Clinton Foundation, becoming one of the largest individual donors to the family’s charities.
Clinton has also gained regular transportation, borrowing Giustra’s plane 26 times for foundation business since 2005, including 13 trips in which the two men traveled together. The numbers on Clinton’s use of the plane, never previously reported, were provided by a spokeswoman for Giustra.
The relationship has gained attention as Hillary Rodham Clinton has launched her presidential campaign amid questions about whether the Clinton Foundation has served as an avenue for wealthy interests to gain entree to a powerful family.
Giustra, 57, a Vancouver, B.C.-based mogul whose eclectic business interests include founding Lionsgate Entertainment and investing in gold mines and an olive oil company, has come to symbolize a relatively new but substantial category of Clinton backers: foreign donors who are not legally eligible to contribute to U.S. political candidates but grew close to the Clintons through the charity.
In a rare interview, Giustra told The Washington Post recently that his friendship with Bill Clinton has grown entirely out of their shared interest in philanthropy — not business.
“I have one very specific reason I have a relationship with Bill Clinton: I admire what he does, and I want to be part of it,” Giustra said. “But I’ve never asked him for a damn thing.”
But Giustra’s donations, and others from his friends in the international mining business, are becoming a factor in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Last week, the Clinton Foundation acknowledged that an affiliated Canadian charity founded in 2007 by Giustra kept its donors secret, despite a 2008 ethics agreement with the Obama administration promising to reveal the New York-based foundation’s donors.
The foundation said the arrangement conformed with Canadian law. But it also opened a way for anonymous donors, including foreign executives with business pending before the Hillary Clinton-led State Department, to direct money to the Clinton Foundation.
For Giustra, the partnership with Bill Clinton provided an introduction to the world of international philanthropy at the highest levels — a feel-good, reputation-enhancing effort that he said he finds more personally satisfying than amassing wealth.
At the same time, Giustra continued to expand his business empire, closing some of the biggest deals of his career in the same countries where he traveled with Clinton.