Trudeau 'satisfied' with Stephen Bronfman's explanation on Paradise Papers, Opposition not so much

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's satisfied with the explanation top Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman gave after coming under fire for his ties to an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands exposed in the Paradise Papers.

Top Liberal fundraiser insisted that he 'has never funded nor used offshore trusts'

Stephen Bronfman, left, is the chief fundraiser for the Liberal Party and a long-time friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right (Andrew Vaughan/Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's satisfied with the explanation top Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman gave after coming under fire for his ties to an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands exposed in the Paradise Papers.

Bronfman insisted Monday that he "has never funded nor used offshore trusts."

His statement made no mention of his Montreal-based investment company Claridge Inc., which documents show had close business ties with the Cayman Islands-based Kolber Trust.

In his response to the leak of tax haven records, Bronfman said he had no "direct or indirect involvement" with the trust other than an arm's length loan made "over a quarter century ago" that was repaid five months later.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam on Wednesday, Trudeau said he accepts Bronfman's public assurances that he has followed all the rules.

"We have received assurances that all rules were followed, indeed the same assurances made in the public statement released by the family, and we are satisfied with those assurances," Trudeau told reporters during a news conference inside Vietnam's presidential palace.

Trudeau satisfied with Bronfman's explanation

5 years ago
Duration 1:19
PM Justin Trudeau says he's satisfied with liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman's explanation of his ties to offshore accounts, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer calls those remarks inappropriate.

"We have done much in regards to tax avoidance and tax evasion, including working with international partners, but we also recognize there is much more to do and you can rest assured that Canada Revenue Agency will take very seriously its responsibility to go after everyone and anyone involved in tax avoidance and tax evasion."

Trudeau made the comments in response to a question asking why Bronfman, also a close friend of the prime minister, appeared to still be in his position as a key Liberal fundraiser.

The prime minister did not directly answer the question about Bronfman's role in the party, nor would he say his friend's name in his response.

The questions around Bronfman gave political foes fresh ammunition to accuse Trudeau of leading an ethically challenged government.

Tax avoidance measures involving offshore trusts are legal, provided that the trust is genuinely managed offshore and that Canadian taxes are paid on any Canadian contributions. And there may be other legitimate reasons for setting up an offshore account, including if you're a contractor doing work in a particular country.

'Canadians are not satisfied'

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he has "serious concerns" that Trudeau would exonerate Bronfman in public after the Canada Revenue Agency promised action following reports that more than 3,000 Canadian companies, trusts, foundations and individuals who use offshore accounts as tax havens.

"We had the Canada Revenue Agency indicate that they were going to review these files and take it seriously. And then a day later, just on the word of his friend and chief fundraiser, the prime minister is basically saying that he's satisfied that there's no wrongdoing," Scheer said Wednesday.

"We have serious concerns about who is Justin Trudeau speaking for. Is he absolving his friend and chief fundraiser of any wrongdoing in advance of any kind of review, in advance of any kind of investigation? Is he speaking for Canada Revenue? I think it's very inappropriate that he would use that type of language, and I certainly don't take him at his word on this issue."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for the finance committee to investigate the Paradise Papers, saying it's critical to understand why Canada's laws allow the super-rich to avoid paying taxes.

"The prime minister says that he is satisfied with the explanation provided by Mr. Bronfman. The reality is Canadians are not satisfied. Canadians expect a just and fair taxation system that — that doesn't just target everyday working Canadians, but that makes sure that everyone pays or contributes their fair share, that ensures that the wealthy, the well-connected, the powerful also contribute their fair share and that's not what Canadians feel like right now and that's why this motion is so important," he said.

Former prime ministers, Queen named

The Paradise Papers, rivalling the Panama Papers in size and scope, involves a cache of nearly 13.4 million files from two offshore services firms and 19 different tax havens.

The leaked documents name the Queen, U.S. President Donald Trump's commerce secretary, Russian oligarchs and former Canadian prime ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien, among others.

The papers show Chrétien lobbied for a company called Madagascar Oil, which hoped to pump ultra-heavy crude from some of the island country's remote but potentially massive oil fields.

He said he thought the company was based in Houston and never knew it was actually incorporated in Bermuda.

"I never received any share options and I never had a bank account outside Canada," Chrétien said.

"Any news report that suggests I have or ever had or was associated in any way with any offshore account is false."

The offshore holdings of former prime minister Martin's family have proliferated in the years since he left public office, the Paradise Papers show.

Canada Steamship Lines, Martin's former shipping empire that he left to his sons in 2003, is one of the "largest clients" of the offshore law firm at the heart of the huge leak, according to an email exchange between firm managers in 2015.

With files from The Canadian Press


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