Gold Digger

Billionaire Is Also Orthodox Rabbi

Joseph Gutnick is one of the biggest private owners of gold in the world, if not the biggest. He personally owns 5 million ounces of gold, which translates into $1.3 billion.

What makes him singular, though, is the way in which he finds his gold. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Jana Wendt reports.

Gutnick loves to go underground, to show the source of his wealth. He relishes the search. "It excites my heart," he says.

This search has brought him great wealth. But Gutnick is not just another mining millionaire on a winning streak. When he takes off his hard hat, he wears another hat: the black yarmulke of an Orthodox rabbi.

Gutnick says he is able to be both wealthy and religious: "The Jewish Talmud says that temptation and the tests of being wealthy are greater than the tests of poverty. So I can't go against what the Jewish sages taught."

"There's always things a person is attracted to. And I'm only human. And until today I've been, I think, pretty good," he says.

Gutnick stands out from the competition in another way. He has hired the best geologists in the business. The man whose advice actually led to his gold discoveries is the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, he says. Schneerson's followers still refer to him simply as the rebbe.

"I rely on him," Gutnick says. "I don't need to know that he was a miracle maker - if the rebbe told me I should search for diamonds and gold, I'll search for them."

The late rebbe lived in Brooklyn and was the leader of the Lubavitcher wing of Orthodox Judaism. He was so revered by his followers that at the time of his death in 1994 many believed he was the messiah.

He handed out dollars in a symbolic gesture to encourage charity, but he also gave his followers advice on everything. So when Gutnick faced huge financial losses in 1987, he went to the rebbe for help.

The rebbe told him not to worry. At the time Gutnick was a wealthy stock trader who had invested in mining stocks before. The rebbe told him to sink everything he had into digging for gold.

Experts were advising exactly the opposite. Gutnick says the rebbe told him to dig and not worry if he didn't find anything at first.

Since then Gutnick has made a string of major gold strikes.

Gutnick has followed his mentor's advice to the letter, spending more than $50 million a year on new exploration. But every time Gutnick digs, he runs the risk of jeopardizing the enormous profits from the original find - just to make the rabbi's prophecy come true.

Many say this is a risky strategy. "The least risk in the world is fulfilling the instructions of the rebbe; it was a sure thing," Gutnick replies.

The other part of the prophecy is the one that has so far eluded Gutnick: diamonds. The rebbe was adamant that he would hit the jackpot on diamonds, too, he says. So he keeps digging and searching, which is expensive.

As he flies from one mine to anoher, Gutnick pours over maps looking for hot prospects. His mine holdings are vast. Under his control is an area three times the size of Israel.

"The outside world thinks that it's a joke, that I won't find the diamonds. So it's a challenge," he says. He would love to succeed.

"Here's this rogue that came from nowhere, made some gold discoveries, came with this wild theory of a rabbi in New York prophesizing he'd find diamonds; and then [if] he actually found them, they may all convert," he says.

Melbourne, where Gutnick is based, is an unlikely place to look for converts. The business establishment there hasn't always welcomed Jews, much less Orthodox rabbis.

Gutnick knows this: "I'm a little naive, but I'm not that naive to know that they would prefer that Joseph with his yarmulke and his beard wouldn't be around, some of them, because I'm a bit of an obstacle to their little clubs that these individuals have," he says.

"And my success, if I become a permanent fixture - they may have to change their ways," he says.

In fact, he says that in a strange way he enjoys confronting this prejudice. "I love to move into those places with a yarmulke and beard," he says.

"Because I like to walk into these types of groups and institutions and say 'Here I am; we're all the same; you can't make these divisions and [won't] allow you to make these divisions.'"

To make a statement, he took over the biggest establishment club of all. In Melbourne that means a game called Aussie rules football. It may look rough and tumble but this is a sport run by the wealthy business elite.

Three years ago the team Gutnick had cheered for all his life was struggling. He saved the club by investing money from his gold discoveries. He also became president of a football club called the Demons.

Gutnick isn't just playing games with his money. He's also made himself a major player in Israeli politics, giving millions of dollars to religious settlers on the West Bank who defiantly oppose trading land for peace with the Palestinians.

Some Israelis wish Gutnick would stay in Australia. The closest the rabbi comes to losing his sense of humor is when he's reminded of his Israeli opponents, who call him a religious fanatic.

"I am not on any extreme of any pale," he says. "I am a disciple of the rebbe who loved all Jews and was one of the greatest leaders of the revival and rejuvenation of Judaism since the Holocaust."

The rebbe's message included a plea that his followers have large families. Gutnick has done his part. He and his wife Stera have 11 children. The rebbe's influence is everywhere in Gutnick's life.

He has given millions of dollars to the rebbe's charities and says that's the reason he wanted to become a rich man in the first place.

Most precious to him are those letters predicting the massive diamond find, notes that Gutnick believes will lead tthe discovery.

"I've got the best track record in Australia for finding major deposits," he says.

"Now I don't believe that's because there's something special about Joseph Gutnick," Gutnick says. "I believe that's because I had a rabbi in New York who said, 'Continue to explore because God will bless you.'"

"Now some people can accept that, or they can say it's a lot of hogwash," he says. "But no one can deny the fact that we've made some major mineral deposits in Australia and will continue to make some very big ones, because the rebbe said so."

Produced by David Kohn;