- This story has been updated since initial publication with additional statements from Wafic Said. Read more extensive excerpts of his response to CBC News here.
A new $60-million university institute in Nova Scotia celebrating former prime minister Brian Mulroney — and being built with money he personally solicited — got a good chunk of that financing from donors embroiled in international controversy, a joint investigation by the Toronto Star, CBC/Radio-Canada and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has found.
From a Jordanian-born metals magnate implicated in aluminum-industry kickbacks, to a Syrian-British entrepreneur who helped broker a massive U.K. arms deal mired in corruption allegations, to one of U.S. President Donald Trump's cabinet picks with ties to Russia, a number of the power players bankrolling the Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University have checkered resumés.
A senior St. FX professor called the revelations "deeply troubling."
"It really is at odds with the purported mission of the university," said Peter McInnis, chair of the university's history department and a former head of the faculty association.
The Mulroney Institute, a venue for undergraduate studies in public policy, was announced last year to great fanfare in Antigonish, N.S.
The town 160 kilometres northeast of Halifax is dominated by its 5,000-student university, and St FX president Kent MacDonald called the new institute "the most transformative project" in the history of the school. Mulroney, at his alma mater, said it was a "high honour" to be involved.
- Full coverage of the Paradise Papers
- Doubts cast on Canadian citizenship of Mulroney's billionaire friend
- Liberal fundraiser tied to $8M loan to offshore trust
The project includes a new building, Mulroney Hall, which is to house classrooms as well as memorabilia from the former prime minister and a re-creation of his office in Ottawa, where he worked as Progressive Conservative prime minister from 1984 to 1993.
Mulroney raised most of the $60 million in funding himself, jet-setting across the world at his own expense to drum up cash from his wealthy friends and business associates.
"A lot of meetings, a lot of travel across Canada and the United States, London, Paris, the Middle East. It was a major endeavour," he told journalists at the groundbreaking ceremony in September.
Now, documents obtained by CBC News and the Star under Nova Scotia access-to-information legislation show exactly who Mulroney was meeting with and who was cutting the cheques.
Wafic Said, the Syrian-born British businessman who helped broker a $74-billion warplanes deal between a U.K. defence company and Saudi Arabia.
Investigations in the mid-2000s determined that up to $10 billion in kickbacks may have been paid to Saudi officials. Hundreds of millions of dollars in secret commissions reportedly flowed through Swiss accounts linked to Said, though he was never the target of any investigation and never charged with any offence.
"I was never questioned or charged with any wrongdoing in the U.K. or any other jurisdiction then or subsequently," he said in an email to Radio-Canada.
"I am proud of the role I played in helping to secure the Al Yamamah programme and with it, many tens of thousands of well-paid and highly skilled jobs," Said wrote in another email to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Said obtained Canadian citizenship under unclear circumstances in the 1990s and ran much of his fortune out of the tax haven of Bermuda. Mulroney sat on the board of his Bermuda-based company from 2004 to 2012.
"At the time I applied for that status, I did not know Mr Mulroney," Said wrote in an email to the CBC. "Indeed, I did not meet him until several years later, I think in 2002. He had nothing to do with my application."
Said donated $4 million to the Mulroney Institute, and in a speech at St. FX called Mulroney "one of the greatest and most successful prime ministers of our time."
Victor Dahdaleh, a Jordanian-born British and Canadian metals magnate who the Panama Papers confirmed was the middle-man in a decades-long, $400-million global bribery scheme involving aluminum giant Alcoa and payments to government officials in Bahrain.
Dahdaleh was criminally charged in Britain but denied wrongdoing and was acquitted in 2013 when a couple of prosecution witnesses didn't show up to court. He donated $1.5 million to create the Victor Dahdaleh Chair in Democracy and Governance at the Mulroney Institute, and did not respond to a request for comment.
Wilbur Ross, the U.S. commerce secretary appointed by Trump.
The Paradise Papers revealed earlier this month that, through a thicket of offshore shell companies, Ross had a stake in a shipping business that received $68 million US in income from a Russian energy firm co-owned by a member of President Vladimir Putin's family and by a close friend of Putin who is under U.S. sanctions.
David Koch, the conservative American tycoon who helped fund the U.S. Tea Party movement and who has spent considerable sums fighting public health care and trying to stymie efforts to curb climate change.
Both Dahdaleh and Said also received honorary doctorates from St. FX months before or after their donations — though neither attended the university or has any significant connection to Nova Scotia.
The Mulroney Institute's donor list contains more conventional names too, including big banks (BMO, CIBC, TD); business executives (Prem Watsa, Gerald Schwartz, Galen Weston, Paul Desmarais); and political players (former senators Michael Meighen and Hugh Segal).
Still, the notoriety of some of the donors, and the ease with which the honorary degrees were dispensed, has critics saying St. FX sold out.
'Universities are underfunded so they're desperate for money.' — Jim Turk, Ryerson University
"Universities are underfunded so they're desperate for money, and what happens so often is that they become very uncritical about who they accept the money from," said Jim Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University in Toronto and former executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. "That lack of concern about the ethics shows in this case."
McInnis, the history department chair, added: "St. FX has a history of social justice and moral engagement in the community, and that could be called into question. … I'm not at all pleased that these names are attached."
The university's top official defended his school. President MacDonald would not agree to an interview but said in an emailed statement that St. FX follows a "very rigorous" process to grant honorary doctorates. "St. FX is proud of the contributions of all individuals who have received an honorary degree from our university," he said.
"We are, indeed, indebted to Mr. Mulroney and his family for their unwavering support for St. FX and our surrounding rural community," the statement said. "The economic impact" of the Mulroney Institute project for northeast Nova Scotia "is significant."
'A good friend'
The Mulroney Institute accepted its first cohort of students this fall. The new building named after the former PM — one of the university's most famous graduates — is scheduled to open in 2019.
Mulroney turned down an interview request, and did not answer detailed emailed questions about why he courted donations from Said and Dahdaleh, in particular.
The former PM's only statement on the matter came earlier this fall, when his name arose in the Paradise Papers in connection to Said.
"Mr. Mulroney has known Mr. Said and his family for more than 20 years," a lawyer representing Mulroney wrote. "He is an outstanding man, a highly successful investor and a leading philanthropist. He is also a good friend."