The Trudeau Foundation has tried “repeatedly” to return a controversial check to a Chinese donor, but has come up against a closed door: the issuing company’s head office is in a decrepit – and deserted – estate located in Dorval. The contract formalizing this donation, which La Presse obtained, was signed on behalf of the foundation in 2016 by Alexandre Trudeau, brother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
As of March 1, the Trudeau Foundation took steps to return the donation to the International Millennium Golden Eagle Corporation, the corporate issuer of the funds. A few days earlier, the Globe and Mail had revealed, based on information intercepted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), that it was the Chinese authorities who had asked two wealthy businessmen to finance the Foundation Trudeau.
It had been agreed that the donation would be $200,000, but the foundation received $140,000.
The head office of the company issuing the donation is located in a decrepit estate located in Dorval, chemin du Bord-de-l’Eau. The courier company, which made numerous delivery attempts, came up against a closed door. Again on Wednesday, during a visit to La Presse, the mansion flanked by a tennis court seemed completely deserted.
A few days later, after unsuccessful efforts, the courier company sent the check back to the foundation. “The donation was returned to us this week,” resigning executive director Pascale Fournier said in an email to board members. This email is part of a bundle of internal foundation documents that La Presse has obtained.
Faced with the impossibility of returning the funds, the general manager indicates that she has asked a law firm to open a trust account to deposit the money. But because she was unaware of the exact source of the funds, the firm was forced to refuse the Trudeau Foundation’s request.
“Before proceeding, [the law firm] performed an internal analysis to ensure that the office could accept the money in accordance with the ethical rules applicable in Quebec. However, the foundation was informed [that the office] could not accept funds in trust for ethical reasons, ”writes Ms. Fournier.
On March 29, shows an internal Foundation document obtained by La Presse, the board of directors was then alerted to the fact that the name on the check for the famous “Chinese donation” would not be the name of the true donor. A request was made to the general management to “print a check to give to the alleged real donor”.
The CEO calls a meeting of the Board of Directors on March 31. At this meeting, the Board votes to launch an independent investigation into the whole “Chinese donation” affair. The law firm Miller Thomson is in charge of the investigation, with the services of the accounting firm Deloitte.
A few days later, a member of the executive committee, lawyer Peter Sahlas, considered another possibility: having the check delivered to the company by bailiff. “Perhaps the bailiff could give us information on the place of delivery (presence of vehicle, lights on, or other signs of life)”, writes Mr. Sahlas in an email addressed to the members of the executive committee of the Foundation. He wonders why the delivery was not made. “Was it because no one was present, or were the people present not accepting the delivery?” »
This suggestion by Mr. Sahlas is not well received by the members of the Board. “I am completely opposed to any transfer of money until the independent investigation is completed”, writes in particular the former lieutenant Nova Scotia’s Myra Freeman, who was on the Foundation’s board, and who resigned Tuesday along with seven other directors.
Several other board members, including Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight group, Dyane Adam, former Commissioner of Official Languages, and Madeleine Redfern, Indigenous businesswoman — all of whom are part of Tuesday’s group of quits — also say their irritation in their responses.
“I propose that the $140,000 be left untouched until the independent investigation is complete,” Ms. Adam wrote. “The Executive Committee and the Board must withdraw completely during the investigation, in order to ensure its independence”, adds the director general Pascale Fournier.
On Wednesday, the Foundation’s new CEO, Edward Johnson, announced that the donation would be subject to independent review. “This independent review will be carried out by an accounting firm on instruction from a law firm, neither of whom have been commissioned by the Foundation in the past,” he said in a statement. transmitted to the media.
Discussions around the “Chinese donation” to the Trudeau Foundation date back to 2014, documents obtained by La Presse show. At that time, the two businessmen Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng expressed the desire to donate $800,000 to the Faculty of Law of the University of Montreal as well as $200,000 to the Trudeau Foundation.
A year later, in September 2015, the Foundation’s Executive Director, Élise Comtois, wrote to members of the executive and told them that the two Chinese businessmen would be visiting Montreal again in a few days “in order to sign the donation contract”.
“Events are rushing, and we do not want to miss this exceptional opportunity,” writes Ms. Comtois. We are running out of time to call a board meeting to get them to approve the deal. We therefore need your agreement in principle. Would it be possible to give me your okay tomorrow? The director general therefore gave members of the executive less than a day to approve the donation from China.
But the donation will not finally materialize until June 2016. The donation was to be made in three installments, two of $70,000 and the last of $60,000. The last check was never paid. The contract formalizing the donation is signed by Zhang Bin, Niu Gensheng, the rector of the University of Montreal, Guy Breton, and Alexandre Trudeau, for the Foundation. At the time, Mr. Trudeau was a member of the board of directors of the Foundation, and he was authorized to enter into this type of agreement, says the then president of the Foundation, Morris Rosenberg.
“I don’t remember exactly. You’re asking me for the details of a clearance that goes back seven years, so I’m not in a position to tell you,” Rosenberg said, when we asked him about Alexandre Trudeau’s specific role on the board. at the time. Alexandre Trudeau declined our interview offer.
Zhang Bin’s Canadian company that made the donation to the Trudeau Foundation is called International Millennium Golden Eagle. The Chinese billionaire is the chairman of the board and gives an address in Beijing.
As of 2020, a certain Du Zhichao has been officially CEO of the company, a “holding company” that does “real estate investing,” according to public filings. La Presse attempted to contact him by ringing the bell at his condo in a 10-story building on rue Chomedey in downtown Montreal. Without success.
In 2013, he registered a company, Minghu International, with a Quebec businessman. On the phone with La Presse, this partner explains that he founded this company with Mr. Du to trade with China by taking advantage of the fact that he had “a lot of contacts in the Chinese government”. “We were looking at whether we could export different products: beef, leather, drinking water… We looked at different things. »
This Quebec partner, who knew Mr. Du at McGill University, said he did not know which contacts he had to activate for their business. “I know he took care of the businessmen who visited Montreal from time to time,” he said. Their company wanted to contract with “companies that were linked to the government.” “But it fell through,” he said. Minghu International has been deregistered from the company register since 2016.
Until 2020, Hu Guojun was the official leader of the International Millennium Golden Eagle. Also of Chinese descent, he runs a real estate business. But according to public documents, he is also vice-president of the Quebec branch of the Lao Niu Foundation, a charity owned by another Chinese billionaire, Niu Gensheng.
This businessman joined Zhang Bin in donating $1 million to the University of Montreal and the Trudeau Foundation.
In fact, Niu Gensheng provided the bulk of the sum: $800,000. Of this amount, $750,000 was to go to the creation of scholarships for exchanges between Chinese and Quebec law students, and $50,000 was intended for the erection of a statue representing former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
At the University of Montreal, communications director Sophie Langlois said the institution ultimately only received $500,000 and that the statue honoring Justin Trudeau’s father was never erected.
As to whether the University plans to reimburse the donation of half a million, the spokeswoman does not close the door. “We are evaluating all our options, in light of the information circulating at the moment. »
“Our foundation donated S$1 million [C$944,654 at the time] to establish a fund for scholarships at the University of Montreal Law School, the former Prime Minister’s alma mater Pierre Elliott Trudeau, with the aim of promoting Sino-Canadian exchanges in culture, education, as well as to create a bronze statue of Pierre Elliott Trudeau,” writes the Foundation in English on its website.
The site publishes photos showing Alexandre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s brother and member of the Foundation’s board of directors at the time, with Niu Gensheng, Zhang Bin and the former rector of the University, Guy Breton.
La Presse attempted to reach Hu Guojun, the representative of the Lao Niu Foundation in Quebec, without success.