By Greg Palast
This excerpt is taken from Greg Palast's book The
Best Democracy Money Can Buy available from www.gregpalast.com
W. could not have amassed this pile if his surname were Jones
or Smith. While other candidates begged, pleaded and wheedled
for donations, the Bushes added a creative, lucrative new
twist to the money chase that contenders couldn't imitate:
"Poppy" Bush's post–White House work. It laid the
foundation for Dubya's campaign kitty corpulence and, not
incidentally, raised the family's net worth by several hundred
In 1998, for example, the former president and famed Desert
Stormtrooper-in-Chief wrote to the oil minister of Kuwait
on behalf of Chevron Oil Corporation. Bush says, honestly,
that he "had no stake in the Chevron operation."
True, but following this selfless use of his influence, the
oil company put $657,000 into the Republican Party coffers.
That year Bush père created a storm in Argentina
when he lobbied his close political ally, President Carlos
Menem, to grant a gambling license to Mirage Casino Corporation.
Once again, the senior Bush wrote that he had no personal
interest in the deal. However, Bush fils made out quite
nicely: After the casino fiap, Mirage dropped $449,000 into
the Republican Party war chest.
Much of Bush's loot, reports the Center for Responsive Politics,
came in the form of "bundled" and "soft"
money. That's the squishy stuff corporations use to ooze around
U.S. law, which prohibits any direct donations from corporations.
Not all of the elder Bush's work is voluntary. His single
talk to the board of Global Crossing, the telecom start-up,
earned him stock worth $13 million when the company went public.
Global Crossing's employees also kicked in another million
for the younger Bush's run. (We'll meet Global Crossing again
in Chapter 3.)
And while the Bush family steadfastly believes that ex-felons
should not have the right to vote for president, they have
no objection to ex-cons putting presidents on their payroll.
In 1996, despite pleas by U.S. church leaders, Poppy Bush
gave several speeches (he charges $100,000 per talk) sponsored
by organizations run by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, cult leader,
tax cheat—and formerly the guest of the U.S. federal prison
system. Some of the loot for the Republican effort in the
1997–2000 election cycles came from an outfit called Barrick
The sum, while over $100,000, is comparatively small change
for the GOP, yet it seemed quite a gesture for a corporation
based in Canada. Technically, the funds came from those
associated with the Canadian's U.S. unit, Barrick Gold Strike.
They could well afford it. In the final days of the Bush
(Senior) administration, the Interior Department made an extraordinary
but little noticed change in procedures under the 1872 Mining
Law, the gold rush–era act that permitted those whiskered
small-time prospectors with their tin pans and mules to stake
claims on their tiny plots. The department initiated an expedited
procedure for mining companies that allowed Barrick to swiftly
lay claim to the largest gold find in America. In the terminology
of the law, Barrick could "perfect its patent" on
the estimated $10 billion in ore—for which Barrick
paid the U.S. Treasury a little under $10,000. Eureka!
Barrick, of course, had to put up cash for the initial property
rights and the cost of digging out the booty (and the cost
of donations, in smaller amounts, to support Nevada's Democratic
senator, Harry Reid). Still, the shift in rules paid off big
time: According to experts at the Mineral Policy Center of
Washington, DC, Barrick saved—and the U.S. taxpayer lost—a
cool billion or so. Upon taking office, Bill Clinton's new
interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, called Barrick's claim
the "biggest gold heist since the days of Butch Cassidy."
Nevertheless, because the company followed the fast-track
process laid out for them under Bush, this corporate Goldfinger
had Babbitt by the legal nuggets. Clinton had no choice but
to give them the gold mine while the public got the shaft.
Barrick says it had no contact whatsoever with the president
at the time of the rules change.
There was always a place in Barrick's heart for the older
Bush—and a place on its payroll. In 1995, Barrick hired the
former president as Honorary Senior Advisor to the Toronto
company's International Advisory Board. Bush joined at the
suggestion of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney,
who, like Bush, had been ignominiously booted from office.
I was a bit surprised that the president had signed on. When
Bush was voted out of the White House, he vowed never to lobby
or join a corporate board. The chairman of Barrick openly
boasts that granting the title "Senior Advisor"
was a sly maneuver to help Bush tiptoe around this promise.
I was curious: What does one do with a used president?
Barrick vehemently denies that it appointed Bush "in
order to procure him to make contact with other world leaders
whom he knows, or who could be of considerable assistance"
to the company. Yet, in September 1996, Bush wrote a letter
to help convince Indonesian dictator Suharto to give Barrick
a new, hot gold-mining concession.
Bush's letter seemed to do the trick. Suharto took away
68 percent of the world's largest goldfield from the finder
of the ore and handed it to Barrick. However, Bush's lobbying
magic isn't invincible. Jim Bob Moffett, a tough old Louisiana
swamp dog who heads Freeport-McMoRan, Barrick's American rival,
met privately with Suharto. When Suharto emerged from their
meeting, the kleptocrat announced that Freeport would replace
Bush's Canadians. (Barrick lucked out: The huge ore deposit
turned out to be a hoax. When the con was uncovered, Jim Bob's
associates invited geologist Mike de Guzman, who "discovered"
the gold, to talk about the error of his ways. Unfortunately,
on the way to the meeting, de Guzman fell out of a helicopter.)
Who is this "Barrick" to whom our former president
would lease out the reflected prestige of the Oval Office?
I could not find a Joe Barrick in the Canadian phone book.
Rather, the company as it operates today was founded by one
Peter Munk. The entrepreneur first came to public notice in
Canada in the 1960s as a central figure in an insider trading
scandal. Munk had dumped his stock in a stereo-making factory
he controlled just before it went belly up, leaving other
investors and government holding the bag. He was never charged,
but, notes Canada's Maclean's magazine, the venture
and stock sale "cost Munk his business and his reputation."
Yet today, Munk's net worth is estimated at $350 million,
including homes on two continents and his own island.
How did he go from busted stereo maker to demi-billionaire
goldbug? The answer: Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer,
the "bag man" in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage
scandals. The man who sent guns to the ayatolla teamed up
with Munk on hotel ventures and, ultimately, put up the cash
to buy Barrick in 1983, then a tiny company with an "unperfected"
claim on the Nevada mine. You may recall that Bush pardoned
the coconspirators who helped Khashoggi arm the Axis of Evil,
making charges against the sheik all but impossible. (Bush
pardoned the conspirators not as a favor to Khashoggi, but
Khashoggi got out of Barrick just after the Iran-Contra
scandal broke, long before 1995, when Bush was invited in.
By that time, Munk's reputation was restored, at least in
his own mind, in part by massive donations to the University
of Toronto. Following this act of philanthropy, the university
awarded Munk–adviser Bush an honorary degree. Several students
were arrested protesting what appeared to them as a cash-for-honors
Mr. Munk's president-for-hire did not pay the cost of his
rental in Indonesia. The return on Barrick's investment in
politicians would have to come from Africa.
Mobutu Sese Seko, the late dictator of the Congo (Zaire),
was one of the undisputed master criminals of the last century
having looted hundreds of millions of dollars from his national
treasury— and a golfing buddy of the senior Bush. That old
link from the links probably did not hurt Barrick in successfully
seeking an eighty-thousand-acre gold-mining concession from
the Congolese cutthroat. Bush himself did not lobby the deal
for Barrick. It wasn't that the former president was squeamish
about using the authority of his former posts to cut deals
with a despot. Rather, at the time Bush was reportedly helping
Adolf Lundin, Barrick's sometime industry rival. Africa specialist
Patrick Smith of London disclosed that Bush called Mobutu
in 1996 to help cinch a deal for Lundin for a mine distant
Rebellion against Mobutu made the mine site unusable, though
not for the company's lack of trying. In testimony in hearings
convened by the minority leader of the House Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Human Rights, expert Wayne Madsen alleged
that Barrick, to curry favor with both sides, indirectly funded
both and thereby inadvertently helped continue the bloody
conflict. The allegation, by respected journalist Wayne Madsen,
has not been substantiated: The truth is lost somewhere in
the jungle, where congressional investigators will never tread.
Though Barrick struck out in Indonesia and the Congo, the
big payoff came from the other side of the continent. The
company's president bragged to shareholders that the prestige
of the Mulroney-Bush advisory board was instrumental in obtaining
one of the biggest goldfields in East Africa at Bulyanhulu,
Tanzania. Barrick, according to its president, had hungered
for that concession—holding an estimated $3 billion in bullion—since
the mid-1990s, when it first developed its contacts with managers
at Sutton Resources, another Canadian company, which held
digging rights from the government. (See footnote 1.) Enriched
by the Nevada venture, Barrick could, and eventually would,
buy up Sutton. But in 1996, there was a problem with any takeover
of Sutton: Tens of thousands of small-time prospectors, "jewelry
miners," so called because of their minuscule finds,
already lived and worked on the land. These poor African diggers
held legal claim stakes to their tiny mine shafts on the property.
If they stayed, the concession was worthless.
In August 1996, Sutton's bulldozers, backed by military
police firing weapons, rolled across the goldfield, smashing
down worker housing, crushing their mining equipment and filling
in their pits. Several thousand miners and their families
were chased off the property. But not all of them. About fifty
miners were still in their mine shafts, buried alive.
Buried alive. It's not on Bush's resume, nor on Barrick's
Web site. You wouldn't expect it to be. But then, you haven't
found it in America's newspapers either.
There are two plausible explanations for this silence. First,
it never happened; the tale of the live burials is a complete
fabrication of a bunch of greedy, lying Black Africans trying
to shake down Sutton Resources (since 1999, a Barrick subsidiary).
That's what Barrick says after conducting its own diligence
investigation and relying on local and national investigations
by the Tanzanian government. And the company's view is backed
by the World Bank. See Chapter 8 of my book "The Best Democracy
Money Can Buy" for more on this.
There's another explanation: Barrick threatens and sues
newspapers and human rights organizations that dare to breathe
a word of the allegations—even if Barrick's denials are expressed.
I know: They sued my papers, the Observer and Guardian.
Barrick even sent a letter to the internationally respected
human rights lawyer Tundu Lissu, a fellow at the World Resources
Institute in Washington, DC, outlining its suit against the
Observer and warning that it would take "all necessary
steps" to protect its reputation should the Institute
repeat any of the allegations. Barrick's threats are the least
of Lissu's problems. For supplying me with evidence—photos
of a corpse of a man allegedly killed by police during the
clearance of the mine site, notarized witness statements,
even a police video of workers seeking bodies from the mine
pits—and for Lissu's demanding investigation of the killings,
his law partners in Dar es Salaam have been arrested and Lissu
charged by the Tanzanian government with sedition.
In 1997, while Bush was on the board (he quit in 1999),
Mother Jones magazine named Barrick's chairman Munk
one of America's "10 Little Piggies"—quite an honor
for a Canadian—for allegedly poisoning the West's water supply
with the tons of cyanide Barrick uses to melt mountains of
Notably, one of the first acts of the junior Bush's Interior
Department in 2001 was to indicate it would reverse Clinton
administration rules requiring gold extractors to limit the
size of waste dumps and to permit new mines even if they were
likely to cause "substantial, irreparable harm."
The New York Times ran a long, front-page story on
this rule-relaxing windfall for Nevada goldmining companies,
but nowhere did the Times mention the name of the owner
of the largest gold mine in Nevada, Barrick, nor its recent
payroller, the president's father.
Barrick has responded to every allegation reported in my first
report on the company in a manner certain to get my attention:
The company and its chairman sued my papers, Guardian
and the Observer. While I have a distaste for retort
by tort, I have incorporated their legitimate concerns to
ensure their views are acknowledged in Chapter 8 of my book
"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"
 A bit of confusion here: Barrick swore to my paper that
the alleged killings "related to a time years before
[Barrick] had any connection whatsoever with the company to
which the report referred." Yet Barrick's president and
CEO, Randall Oliphant, told Barrick's shareholders that prior
to their acquisition of Sutton, "we followed the progress
at Bully (i.e., Bulyanhulu) for five years, remaining in close
contact with the senior management team." That would
connect them to the mine in 1994. The mining company wants
me to report their version of events. Okay, here's both of
Greg Palast is an investigative reporter for BBC television
and author of the New York Times bestseller, The
Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Penguin/Plume 2003). You
can read more of Greg's writings and order the book at www.gregpalast.com.