MORNE BOSSA, Haiti — Drive down the rutted dirt road a couple of miles to the guardhouse, then hike 15 minutes up to the overgrown hilltop, and there it is: a piece of 3
This is what, at least for the time being, a gold mine looks like.
It also has become a potentially problematic issue for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she considers a second presidential run, after it was revealed this month that in 2013, one of her brothers was added to the advisory board of the company that owns the mine.
Tony Rodham’s involvement with the mine, which has become a source of controversy in Haiti because of concern about potential environmental damage and the belief that the project will primarily benefit foreign investors, was first revealed in publicity about an upcoming book on the Clintons by author Peter Schweizer.
In interviews with The Washington Post, both Rodham and the chief executive of Delaware-based VCS Mining said they were introduced at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative — an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that critics have long alleged invites a blurring of its charitable mission with the business interests of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their corporate donors.
Asked whether he attends CGI meetings to explore personal business opportunities, Rodham responded, “No, I go to see old friends. But you never know what can happen.”
All sides deny that the Clintons had any role in Rodham’s appointment to the VCS advisory board.
Rodham said he has not been involved in any other deals through connections made at CGI. He said that he has never spoken to his sister or her husband about the Haiti project and that he does not think VCS chief executive and president Angelo Viard, a Democratic donor, approached him because of his family ties. Rodham declined to say who introduced him to Viard; Viard said he could not remember.
“I’m a very accomplished person in my own right,” Rodham said. He said his work with the company is to try to find investors, which he said has been challenging because of a lack of interest in Haiti.
“I raise money for a lot of people,” he said. “That’s what I basically do.”
Rodham, a former repo man, prison guard and private detective, has long been a source of controversy for the Clintons. Among other things, he and his brother, Hugh, caused consternation in the Clinton White House in 1999 for trying to operate a hazelnut-processing business in the Republic of Georgia with political opponents of the Georgian president, who was a U.S. ally at the time.
Viard said that he paid to become a member of CGI so he could attend two of the organization’s meetings, and that he met Rodham at a gathering in 2012. (Foundation officials said Viard paid a $20,000 membership fee in 2013.)
“You try to be a member so you can meet people in the same industry,” Viard said. He said he attended CGI as “a pure marketing operation.”
He said he ultimately stopped attending CGI meetings after realizing that they were largely designed for charities to mingle with possible donors. He said he thinks commitments made at CGI have done a lot of good in the developing world.
Rodham joined the board in October 2013, nine months after Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary of state. Viard said he put Rodham on the board not because of his family connections, but because he worked for a firm, Gulf Coast Funds Management, that had access to investors.
Viard said that he and Rodham never discussed the Clintons, and that he never talked to the Clintons about Rodham. A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation said that Bill Clinton does not know Viard, and a spokesman for Hillary Clinton said she also does not know him.
In December 2012, VCS won one of the first two gold-mining permits the Haitian government had issued in more than 50 years. The project was immediately slammed by members of the Haitian Senate, who called it a potential environmental disaster and “a waste of resources.” The backlash caused the government to put the permits on hold.
Viard stressed that Rodham was not involved in the effort to win the permit from the Haitian government, which was granted months before Rodham joined the board.
He said Rodham was compensated with stock options that will not vest unless the project is a success. He said Rodham has not landed any investors, adding, “It sounds like people were not interested in Haiti.”
Rodham confirmed that he has received stock options in VCS and that they have not yet vested, saying, “Never seen ’em.”
“I’m just trying to help him out a little bit. If it ever accomplishes anything, great,” Rodham said of Viard, adding that the people of Haiti “got a bad deal” — saddled with poverty and then hit in 2010 by a devastating earthquake — and that he hoped the gold mine could help the country recover.
The Clintons have been longtime advocates for development in Haiti, especially since the earthquake. Bill Clinton, as the United Nations’ special envoy to the nation, and Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, were primary forces in the emergency relief response and later efforts to create long-term development plans for the ravaged country.
But the Clintons’ image in Haiti has slipped in recent months as Haitians increasingly complain that Clinton-backed projects have often helped the country’s elite and international business investors more than they have helped poor Haitians.
Defenders of the Clintons call such criticism untrue and unfair and largely pressed by the Clintons’ political enemies. They argue that Clinton-funded programs have brought millions of dollars in investment to Haiti and have created jobs for thousands of Haitians.
But news that a Clinton family member is helping the mining company attract more foreign investors has deepened suspicion.
“Rodham is an independent guy, but this is tricky; it’s not a good sign for him to be on the board of a mining company here in Haiti,” said Leslie Voltaire, a former Haitian government official who worked closely with the Clintons after the earthquake. “The Clintons are seen as being in power here. You have to be very cautious that your family does not intervene in business here.”
Jean-Max Bellerive, a former prime minister and a potential presidential candidate in elections expected this year, joined the VCS advisory board at the same time as Rodham.
When the mine permit was suspended in early 2013, Bellerive said, Viard hired him for $8,000 to help him understand Haitian governmental procedures, as well as to introduce him to Haitian senators and advise him on how to persuade them to support the mine project.
Bellerive said that Viard offered compensation when he joined the advisory board a few months later, but that he refused it. He said he had mixed feelings about the project because he was worried about potential environmental damage and unsure whether the Haitian government was equipped to regulate such a complex enterprise.
He said he hoped that by joining the board, he would help ensure that the project was handled “responsibly.” But he said he has had “close to zero” involvement with it.
Bellerive said he was comfortable with his decision to join VCS, but thinks Rodham made a mistake.
“If I was Tony Rodham, I would not have been on the board,” he said. “He knows he did nothing illegal, but it has a high political price for his sister.”