Canada Revenue Agency to ‘review’ Canadians linked to Paradise Papers leak
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fends off opposition questions about Liberal’s chief fundraiser ties to multimillion offshore account.
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OTTAWA—Revelations from a massive leak of tax haven records containing the names and offshore dealings of 3,300 Canadians dominated question period Monday, with the Liberal government promising a “review” of the Paradise Papers’ Canadian connections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier faced a barrage of opposition questions over headlines drawn from the cache of 13 million documents leaked to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Toronto Star.
“We are fully committed to fighting tax evasion and tax avoidance,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons.
“With respect to the Paradise Papers, the (Canada Revenue Agency) is reviewing links to Canadian entities and will take every appropriate action . . . . We will continue to work for a system that is fair.”
Lebouthillier’s office confirmed the CRA has already launched a review into the Canadian names found in the Paradise Papers, and said the agency is looking for more information about the leak from international partners.
Trudeau never used Stephen Bronfman’s name in the Commons Monday. The billionaire philanthropist was at the centre of stories published Sunday by the Toronto Star and CBC-Radio Canada. They detail how Bronfman, the Liberal party’s chief fundraiser, is linked to a $60-million (U.S.) Cayman Islands trust.
Records name Bronfman, his father, Charles, his godfather, retired senator Leo Kolber, and Leo’s son, Jonathan, as key figures in the Kolber Trust, which was used to invest their collective fortunes in Israel.
Together, the Bronfmans and Kolbers have been connected in the trust’s financing and operation for 24 years, the records show.
“Stephen Bronfman has never funded nor used offshore trusts,” reads a statement Bronfman issued Monday in response to the stories. “His Canadian trusts have paid all taxes on all their income to the Canadian government.”
The statement also reads “Stephen Bronfman and his family have always conducted themselves in accordance with the highest legal and ethical standards.”
His involvement with the Kolber Trust amounts to a “single loan made over a quarter century ago,” which was repaid five months later and was, “an arm’s-length, fully commercial basis, in full compliance with all legal requirements, including with respect to taxes.”
Bronfman’s loan to the Kolber Trust in 1997 is described in the documents as $5.3-million loan without interest owed or due date. It was repaid in April 1998, the leaked documents read.
“Stephen Bronfman had no other direct or indirect involvement whatsoever in the Kolber Trust,” his written statement reads.
The leaked documents show Bronfman, his father, Charles, and the two U.S.-based Charles Bronfman trusts transferred nearly $40 million (U.S.) to the Kolber Trust though loans. Stephen Bronfman’s name, along with that of his investment firm, Claridge, appear throughout the records, often detailing an oversight role in trust decisions.
Bronfman declined repeated interview requests before publication of the stories.
The Paradise Papers’ revelations come months after Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have been pushing messages of tax fairness.
Morneau was forced to back down from proposed small business tax tweaks that, the government argued, allowed wealthy Canadians to shelter their income and pay less tax. After months of criticism from doctors, lawyers and accountants — as well as the Conservatives — the Liberals watered down their proposals and cut the small business tax rate instead.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberals of “demonizing” those professionals with private corporations, while protecting their “wealthy friends.”
“The prime minister spent a part of the summer and fall treating local entrepreneurs as tax evaders. He accused them of using loopholes to save on taxes,” Scheer said in the House of Commons. “Let’s see what he’ll do now that close Liberal advisers are named in the Paradise Papers, and they were the ones who used loopholes to save their fortunes.”
The NDP, who have long criticized the use of offshore tax havens by the wealthy, similarly accused the Liberal government of “going after the small taxpayer” while letting “the big fish go.”
“Let us not forget that the government has done nothing about the Panama Papers. The government has not taken seriously the issue of tax havens and offshore accounts,” said Guy Caron, the New Democrats’ parliamentary leader.
Trudeau and Lebouthillier both pointed to the roughly $1 billion in funding committed to CRA over the past two years to combat aggressive offshore tax planning and tax evasion, and vowed the Liberal government would continue to pursue tax cheats.
The CRA also said they currently have 990 audits and 42 criminal investigations into offshore “financial structures” underway.
As for the individuals named in the Paradise Papers, Trudeau said: “I will let individuals comment on their own situation.”