Calgary

Real-estate mogul shot in Mount Royal is a polarizing businessman, respected philanthropist

The real-estate mogul who was gunned down while leaving his Mount Royal mansion on Monday morning is a polarizing character — the subject of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and a down-to-earth volunteer and philanthropist.

Riaz Mamdani is the subject of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and is praised for his generosity

Riaz Mamdani, the CEO of Calgary realty behemoth Strategic Group and a father of four, was shot outside his Mount Royal mansion Monday morning. (Left photo: Strategic Group; Right photo: Justin Pennell/CBC)

The real-estate mogul who was gunned down while leaving his mansion in one of Calgary's wealthiest neighbourhoods is a polarizing character — the subject of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and a "gentleman" volunteer and philanthropist.

Riaz Mamdani, the CEO of Calgary realty behemoth Strategic Group, was shot through the window of his Rolls Royce Phantom while pulling out of his driveway in Mount Royal. He was rushed to hospital and is now listed in stable condition. 

While shootings have become more common in the city, it's rare for gunfire to erupt on the tony streets of Mount Royal, leading to speculation about what motived the attack. 

Targeted attack

Calgary police say the shooting appears to be targeted. 

Staff Sgt. Travis Baker said police are looking into all aspects of Mamdani's background to help uncover a possible motive for the attack.

"If this is business related, we would certainly be exploring those things. We'll be looking at all different kinds of motives," he said.

Mamdani has been able to speak to investigators and is being cooperative, said Baker.

In a statement, Strategic Group said it has received an "outpouring of support" from customers and business partners in the wake of the shooting.

"We were all shocked yesterday upon receiving the news about our president and CEO, Riaz Mamdani," the statement reads.

"Thankfully he is stable, improving, and we can expect a full recovery."

Multimillion dollar lawsuits

Mamdani is embroiled in several lawsuits, but the best-known legal fights stem from his involvement in Platinum Equities, a company accused of bilking investors for $160 million.

"The contention in the class-action lawsuit, which hasn't been proven yet, is that together, Platinum Equities and Riaz Mamdani, through Strategic Group, kind of strategized a way for Platinum to basically chase tenants out of the buildings, stop doing maintenance and so forth to drive the value of those properties down, which were then resold, or went into foreclosure on mortgages that Riaz had, and Riaz was able to get those properties back at a very huge discount," said freelance journalist Anthony Davis, who interviewed the media-shy Mamdani in 2012. 

Speaking to the Calgary Eyeopener, Davis said Mamdani — who argues he is a victim of Platinum Equities along with other investors — is the subject of about 19 various lawsuits at last count, including a $10-million suit and a $160-million suit, both related to Platinum Equities. 

Philanthropic work

Mamdani, however, is not simply a one-dimensional character, holed up in a mansion with multimillion-dollar lawsuits hanging over his head. 

Mayor Naheed Nenshi praised the father of four on Monday for building an empire after arriving in Canada from Uganda with nothing to his name, and for being an "incredibly important philanthropist."

"He was one of the first ones standing there with us when we welcomed the Syrian refugees," said Nenshi on Strategic Group opening apartments to house the newcomers. 

"They've always been there for us," he said of Mamdani and his wife, Zainool. "So I hope the community will be there for them as well."

Jonathan Fesik, the vice-president of administration and operations for Project Warmth, can't square the image of Mamdani illustrated by the lawsuits with the man he knows from his charitable work. 

"Lawsuits are lawsuits until proven in court, but from the gentleman that I know, I find it hard to believe," he said. 

'He's a gentleman'

Mamdani just called out of the blue three years ago, said Fesik, and asked how he could help the organization, which distributes warm clothing to Calgary's homeless. 

"If it wasn't for his efforts, we've been many years always short of coats and hats and mitts or whatever and he collects all these things and really filled the void for us," he said, adding Mamdani and Strategic Group drop off between 10,000 and 15,000 items every year.

"I find him a very fine fellow. He's a gentleman. When we do the Blackfoot winter festival and we have a little booth there and we do Project Warmth, he rolls his sleeves up and hauls bags and clothes and works just like the rest of us," said Fesik. 

"I wouldn't have realized who he was until all this kind of happened to him."

Calgary police say they are looking for a man in a bright orange jacket and were investigating whether there is any connection between the shooting and an SUV that was set on fire in a nearby alley.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Colleen Underwood