Bill Clinton May Get Payout of $20 Million

Former President Clinton stands to reap around $20 million -- and will sever a politically sensitive partnership tie to Dubai -- by ending his high-profile business relationship with the investment firm of billionaire friend Ron Burkle.

Mr. Clinton is negotiating to end his relationship with Mr. Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. as part of a broader effort to protect the presidential campaign of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, from potential conflicts of interest. Details of Mr. Clinton's involvement in Yucaipa and his efforts to unwind it come from documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter.

The former president has had links to Yucaipa since early 2002, when Mr. Burkle -- a longtime friend and political contributor -- offered him a role there. Mr. Clinton's association with the firm began at a time when he was looking to earn large amounts of money, partly to pay heavy legal bills accumulated to defend himself and Mrs. Clinton from several investigations during his presidency.

Now, as he negotiates with Yucaipa to withdraw from the relationship, he is a wealthy man, thanks partly to tens of millions of dollars he has earned making speeches around the world.

Mr. Clinton initially signed on with Mr. Burkle as a senior adviser to closely held Yucaipa. As part of that arrangement, Mr. Burkle agreed to give Mr. Clinton a share of the profits from two Yucaipa domestic investment funds if their returns reached a certain threshold. Mr. Clinton's adviser arrangement ended in early 2007, five years after it began. But Mr. Clinton still hasn't settled the issue of his payout.

Multimillion-Dollar Payday

The sales in recent months of Wild Oats Markets Inc. and Pathmark Stores Inc. produced several hundred million dollars in profits for the two Clinton-related Yucaipa domestic funds, which had big shareholdings in the two supermarket chains. Profits from the sales helped to push the funds above the earnings threshold needed to generate a multimillion-dollar payday for the former president, according to public documents related to the sales and other information.

The deals were announced in February and March 2007, respectively -- around the time Mr. Clinton's involvement as an adviser to the domestic funds was set to expire. By not closing out his Yucaipa relationship before those sales were completed, President Clinton probably increased the amount of money ultimately due him, say people familiar with such transactions.

Mr. Clinton is also looking to close out partnership interests in a Yucaipa fund that focuses on investing in foreign companies. This fund -- called Yucaipa Global Partnership Fund LP -- has raised several hundred million dollars from a range of investors. Unlike his deal to advise the two Yucaipa domestic funds, Mr. Clinton invested an undisclosed sum of his own money in the global fund and has a limited partnership interest.

Mr. Clinton is also one of three owners of the global fund's general partner. The others are Mr. Burkle, who is the managing member, and an entity connected to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Severing the tie to Dubai, a U.S. ally, will remove a potentially tricky problem for Mrs. Clinton. Questions raised about the activities of sovereign wealth funds -- giant pools of money controlled by foreign governments -- have become a campaign issue, as the funds have made a spate of multibillion-dollar investments in such corporate giants as Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mrs. Clinton said such purchases are "a source of concern," partly because the foreign funds "lack transparency" and could be used by foreign governments as "instruments of foreign policy."

Mr. Burkle made his fortune by investing in a range of industries, particularly the supermarket business, and is believed to have become a billionaire. He also has become a major fund-raiser for and backer of Democratic Party candidates, including the Clintons. He often opens his Beverly Hills estate, Green Acres, for fund-raising events, and Mr. Clinton has been a frequent house guest there.

Mr. Clinton's duties and activities as a Yucaipa adviser have never been completely clear to outsiders. He has met at times with people involved in various Yucaipa business deals. And the former president's vast global network of contacts probably has been an asset for Mr. Burkle in dealings with business, labor and political leaders. Over the years, Mr. Burkle has said publicly that Mr. Clinton's prestige and connections have helped Yucaipa get its business proposals in front of top corporate decision makers.

Appropriate Transition

Asked about the unwinding of the Yucaipa relationship, a spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president "is taking steps to ensure" that there will be "an appropriate transition" for the business relationship should Mrs. Clinton win the Democratic presidential nomination.

The spokesman added it isn't yet known how much Mr. Clinton will receive from his involvement in Yucaipa. A Yucaipa spokesman declined to comment on the firm's relationship with Mr. Clinton.

As part of the effort to sever financial connections that could complicate Mrs. Clinton's presidential bid, the couple in June disclosed that they had sold millions of dollars worth of stock in public companies and put the funds in cash accounts.

The first public sign of Mr. Clinton's pullback from Yucaipa came recently when a Clinton spokesman confirmed, in response to questions from the Journal, that the former president hadn't participated in an investment that the Yucaipa foreign fund made in Xinhua Finance Media Ltd. Top officials of the Beijing-based news and information company have had close ties over the years to China's Communist government.

The Right to Opt Out

Under his arrangement with Yucaipa, Mr. Clinton has the right to opt out of a particular investment, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Clinton exercised that option in the Xinhua case -- possibly out of concern that such an alliance could cause headaches for his wife's presidential bid. Yucaipa invested about $25 million in the company.

In an October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning the Xinhua investment, Yucaipa disclosed that one member of its global fund's general partnership was Dubai Investment Group (YGP) Ltd., which is connected to a much larger group of entities owned by Sheik Mohammed that has investments around the world.

Since leaving the White House, Mr. Clinton has had various contacts with Dubai. For example, Sheik Mohammed last year pledged financial support to a Clinton charitable initiative, and the former president's foundation has a scholarship program at the American University in Dubai in cooperation with the emirate's ruler.

Other leading American political figures have had business connections with foreign countries, including Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani's consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, has provided security advice to the government of Qatar. (wsj, 1.22.2008, John R. Emshwiller)