Just call it the Sheik shake down…
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In one of the more prominent early Podesta email revelations, we learned that Sheik Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-‘Amoudi, a Saudi Arabian and Ethiopian billionaire businessman, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes at $8.3 billion as of 2016, was one of the very generous donors to the Clinton Foundation… up to a point.
As a November 2011 email from Ira Magaziner, Vice Chairman and CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, sent to John Podesta and Amitabh Desai, Director of Foreign Policy at the Clinton Foundation, revealed, the “CHAI [Clinton Health Access Initiative] would like to request that President Clinton call Sheik Mohammed to thank him for offering his plane to the conference in Ethiopia and expressing regrets that President Clinton’s schedule does not permit him to attend the conference.”
To this, the response by Desai was a simple one: “Unless Sheikh Mo has sent us a $6 million check, this sounds crazy to do.”
At this point, Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s former chief advisor and current president of the infamous Teneo Holding Doug Band, chimed in that it probably is a good idea: “If he doesn’t do it Chai will say he didn’t give the money bc of wjc” an assessment which John Podesta agreed with: “this seems rather easy and harmless and not a big time sink.”
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To be sure, this exchange suggested that a substantial amount of cash had or was about to be exchanged between the Clinton Foundation and the Saudi “Sheikh Mo”, as shown in the photo below.
However, the details were missing: the original email from Ira Magaziner referenced a specific briefing memo which contained in it the talking points updating on the relationship between the Clinton Foundation and The Saudi billionaire:
Ed Wood has prepared a briefing memo for President Clinton about the call which is attached
Now, courtesy of today’s latest Podesta email release, we have access to the missing memo.
The leaked memo lays out the facts on the Clinton Foundation trying to collect on Sheik Mohammed’s overdue donor commitment to CHAI. Notably, the memo gives the inference of the Sheik being shaken down by the Foundation in that the Foundation was demanding an immediate $6 million payment in return for WJC attending the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs (ICASA) event. Additionally the Foundation apparently enlisted the assistance of the US Ambassador to Ethiopia to obtain payments from the Sheik.
The memo initially lays out Bill Clinton’s history with the Sheik:
In the first bullet point we find what the initial “bid” and “ask” would be between WJC/CF and the Saudi billionaire: $2 million for every year that Bill Clinton visit Ethiopia. This, however, was subsequently changed to an agreement whereby the Saudi would give $2 million per year but without any reference to visiting Ethiopia:
Sheik Mohammed approached CHAI in 2006 shortly after we opened an office in Addis Ababa. He proposed that he would give $2 million to CHAI every year that YOU visited Ethiopia. We eventually negotiated an Agreement with his Washington attorney, George Salem, in which he agreed to fund CHAI at a rate of $2 million per year for 10 years. They rejected any proposals to put a payment schedule in the agreement, but dropped any reference tying the donation to YOU visiting Ethiopia.
The next bullet lays out the initial fund transfer of $2 million in London, as well as the broad terms of the agreement whose “requirement is that the money be spent within Ethiopia.” Amusingly, the memo then notes that during negotiations the Saudi delegation “rejected our proposal that some of the money could be used for global overhead.”
The Agreement was officially signed at a meeting in London in May 2007 by the Sheik and Bruce, after which the Sheik presented you with a a check for $2 million for the 2007 payment. The Agreement is very general and does not require any specific proposals from CHAI for how the money will be spent or any reporting. The only requirement is that the money be spent within Ethiopia. During negotiations they rejected our proposal that some of the money could be used for global overhead.
We then learn that more cash transfers took place in the coming years, despite the Sheik having “cash flow problems” which resulted in a bulk payment of $4 million in 2010 for missed payments in 2008 and 2009.
Through 2008 and early 2009, we were told the Sheik was having some cash flow problems and that he was delaying payments for many commercial and philanthropic commitments he had in Ethiopia. In January 2010 at a Foundation donors meeting in Harlem, Ambassador Irvin Hicks, one of the Sheik’s representatives in the U.S. and a former Ethiopian ambassador appointed by YOU presented to YOU a check for $4 million representing payment for 2008 and 2009.
The memo then tells WJC just why the relationship was created in the first place: “The Sheik’s contribution supports most of CHAI’s activities in Ethiopia, one of its most important and successful country programs.”
A section then follow which reminds Bill Clinton just who Sheikh Mohammed is, and that the two had spent time together in his “private suite at a nightclub attached to the Sheraton” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
YOU first met the Sheik in July 2006 during a visit to Addis. He visited your suite in the Sheraton Hotel, which he owns, for coffee and then after dinner YOU dropped into his private suite at a nightclub attached to the Sheraton. He had invited YOU there especially because he thought you would enjoy the saxophone player. You chatted with the Sheik and played the saxophone with the band. Shortly after this visit negotiations began in earnest regarding the $20 million commitment the Sheik has made to CHAI.
YOU met the Sheik in London in May, 2007, at which time the Agreement was signed and the first $2 million check was received.
YOU stayed at the Sheraton in July 2008 during your last Ethiopia visit, but the Sheik was not in Ethiopia at the time. The Sheik donated the rooms and meals for the large party during an extended four-day visit, two days longer than originally planned because of aircraft problems.
Where things get interesting is in the memo’s discussion of the current (as of November 2011) situation, in which we learn that once again the Saudi billionaire was behind on his payments due to the current economic downturn:
Once again, we are told that the current economic down turn has caused the Sheik to delay payments for several commitments. CHAI has not received the 2010 or 2011 payments. We have contacted both George Salem, the lawyer, and Ambassador Hicks regarding payment. Both say that the Sheik will make the payment but they have not been able to pinpoint an exact date.
Recent complications did not make matters any easier, although the Sheikh had enough cash to provide Bill with a plane to attend the upcoming African AIDS conference:
In the past two months the effort to collect the payments for 2010-2011 has become complicated by factors surrounding ICASA, the biennial large African AIDS conference that will be held in Ethiopia the first week of December. The previous two ICASA conference in Nigeria and Senegal were beset by logistical and financial problems and Prime Minister Meles and Minister of Health Tedros have worked hard to make the Ethiopia ICASA the most successful ever. They have enlisted Sheik Mohammed to help and he has donated the venue and paid for an additional $8-10 million of expenses.
Minister Tedros invited YOU to participate in ICASA, and apparently he or someone else connected with ICASA asked the Sheik if he would provide a plane to bring YOU to Ethiopia for the event. The Sheik agreed to provide a plane, and instructed Ambassador Hicks to tell CHAI one would be available.
Where things get hot, and where the Clinton Foundation is accused of “coercion” by the Sheik’s Washington attorney George Salem, is in the negotiation over whether Clinton should come to Ethiopia without having been wired the funds up front, or if he should assume that the billionaire is “good for the money” and just fly out there on good will.
When George Salem spoke with the Sheik about the payment, he was told by the Sheik to make sure YOU knew that the Sheik would very much like for you to attend ICASA and that he would provide transportation. In response, Bruce told George that if the Sheik would wire $6 million to the Foundation for 2010-2012 that he would make sure YOU attended ICASA. After Bruce’s stroke, George told Ed Wood of CHAI that the Sheik said he did not like “coercion” and that we should know that he was “good for the money.” George reiterated that the money would be paid, but could not give a date.
The Sheik seems to feel that we asked him for transportation and then decided not to use it. George and Ambassador Hicks have been told that the request for transportation did not originate with us, but we are not sure that the message reached the Sheik.
Ultimately the negotiations for Clinton flying to Ethiopia stalled, and appear to have fallen apart, leading to the original quote from the Clinton Foundation’s Amitabh Desai in which he said, as we noted earlier this month, that “Unless Sheikh Mo has sent us a $6 million check, this sounds crazy to do.” As a result, the memo gives WJC the following action point:
George Salem, Ambassador Hicks, and CHAI feel that it would be helpful if you would call the Sheik and thank him for offering the plane and saying you are sorry you can’t attend ICASA. We don’t think it is necessary for YOU to bring up the payment issue directly.
The memo concludes with the following talking points:
- YOU should thank the Sheik for his support of all our efforts in Ethiopia, and especially for offering to provide a plane to bring you to the ICASA meeting.
- YOU should express your regrets that you were not able to arrange your schedule to attend the ICASA meeting since you know how important it is to Ethiopia and to the Sheik. You should express your appreciation that he has helped make this event possible during a difficult time for the international AIDS effort.
- YOU should say you hope to be able to visit with the Sheik again soon either in Ethiopia or elsewhere.
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This memo provides valuable insight into just how the “charitable” Clinton Foundation truly operated: absent being made whole on millions of dollars in payments – by a donor who had already provided it with $6 million in the past – the “so very concerned” about AIDS and African welfare Foundation, would not even bother to fly Bill Clinton for a 1-2 day trip – on someone else’s dime – to something as simple, yet noble, as a healthcare conference: precisely what the Foundation, and Bill Clinton’s presence, is supposed to represent and support.
It also shows that when the Foundation found itself in arrears to a prominent donor, it first and only concern was how to get paid; all else – up to and including doing the absolute minimum such as appearing for a good cause, was secondary and – as the memo documents – ultimately irrelevant unless Clinton and the CF were both generously compensated for their efforts.
And that, in a nutshell is what the “generous and charitable” Clinton foundation was all about: make sure to get the money, the rest simply did not matter.
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