'Happy to be gone from that cesspool': Former Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank executive lashes out at the institution

A series of damning messages sent out by a former Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) executive in the very early hours of June 14 paint a disturbing picture. Bob Pickard, a Canadian, was Director General of Communications for the Chinese bank.

'Happy to be gone from that cesspool': Former Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank executive lashes out at the institution
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“I have tendered my resignation as the global comms chief of @AAIB_Official,” read the tweet. “As a patriotic Canadian, this was my only course. Communist Party members dominate the Bank and also have one of the most toxic cultures imaginable. I don’t believe that my country’s interests are served by its AIIB membership.”

Pickard further said that “Communist Party hacks hold the cards at the [AIIB] bank. They deal with some board members as useful idiots. I believe my government should not be a member of this PRC instrument. We are being played for idiots.”

He compared the Chinese Communist Party (CCP or CPC) members of the bank to “an in-house KGB or Gestapo or Stazi.”

Pickard only sent the messages out after he had left China, stating that he had become concerned for his security.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa predictably called the claims “outright lies,” and the AIIB quickly wiped Pickard’s profile from their site. Less than twelve hours after Pickard’s posts, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that Canada was halting all activities with the Bank, launching a review of Canada’s membership and an investigation into the allegations.

Michael Kovrig, a Canadian citizen and one of two men, along with Michael Spavor, held hostage in China for several years, piped in online with his thoughts: ”Can’t imagine how an infrastructure bank created by the CPC [CCP] could possibly be influenced by it…”

The Bank was an initiative announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping and China’s Minister of Finance, Lou Jiwei, in 2013. A launch ceremony was held in Beijing in 2014. The board is littered with government officials serving dual roles at the AIIB while serving the CCP. It appears to be precisely what it seems when it was first launched: a way for China to exercise and consolidate its power.

Unfortunately, those glaring red flags were not enough to prevent Justin Trudeau from signing Canadians up to the bank, applying to join in 2016. In an exclusive interview given to China Central Television (CCTV) News in September 2016, Trudeau expressed that Canadian investment in the bank would create “opportunities” for them, and Canada. Not exactly known for his economic prowess, but well known for believing that budgets balance themselves, it’s possible that Justin truly believed that.

Canada formally entered into an agreement with the bank in 2018. A one percent membership in the bank was pledged, a stake worth approximately US$995 million, according to the bank’s site.

One of the supposed “perks” of the AIIB was that members would be given preferential access to contract bidding. That never seemed to materialize, at least not in Canada. It’s unclear how many contracts Canada has received from the bank, and non-members could still bid on projects, but early reports indicated it was less than a smashing success. Numerous calls have been made repeatedly by Conservative politicians to withdraw from the bank. Those calls were brushed off by the Liberals and ignored, until Pickard’s condemning messages surfaced on June 14.

Former Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called for withdrawal from the bank in a letter to Justin Trudeau in 2021, urging him to cancel a US$40 million yearly installment payment to the bank – payments that chugged along despite the detention of our citizens.

“When the AIIB was first proposed, it was criticized as a political tool that the Chinese government would use to expand its influence throughout Asia. Furthermore, concerns about the AIIB’s environmental records, labour standards, and overall commitment to human rights continue to this day,” the letter read.

Initially viewed as a rival to the World Bank. Liberal politicians were eager to tap an initiative by an authoritarian government that could rival the economic dominance of our greatest ally, the United States. Our southern neighbours did not join.

Though the AIIB eventually partnered with the World Bank, there remains little evidence of any direct benefit to Canada. Stephen Harper – the man whom Liberals accuse of "selling Canada’s soul to China when he signed FIPA" – according to Liberals anyways – wouldn’t touch the bank.

The freshly elected Liberal government was eager to broker a free trade deal with China.

One obvious way to curry favour during this negotiation period would be to throw millions of taxpayer dollars at a Bejing-led “multilateral” development bank. Those dreams went out the window when the aforementioned Michael Kovrig was captured by the Chinese government along with Michael Spavor, in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in late 2018.

The Government of Canada’s website describes the Chinese infrastructure bank as a “lean, clean, green institution.” It’s unclear how they made that deduction, given that China was rated the top polluter worldwide regarding CO2 emissions in 2021. The United Nations has also hailed the bank as a method to provide and ramp up sustainable development solutions in developing nations.

A meeting between PRC Consul General Xue Bing and then Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland was organized by the Canada China Business Council (CCBC). It occurred in March of 2016, just prior to Justin Trudeau’s historic visit to China.

A post has since been mysteriously removed (evidently at some point after March of 2023, according to archives), which contained an audio recording of then Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s speech on the matter. Another link was removed for a post for the CCBC’s welcome gathering for Consul General Xue Bing in 2015.

A speech at the CCBC luncheon however, by Consul General Xue Bing still exists. He expressed that “Canada is welcome to join the AIIB, to make good use of its expertise in infrastructure investment and investment risk management, and participate in the Belt and Road Initiative in the principle of joint consultation, joint construction and sharing.”

The CCBC was formed under the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1978, is comprised of corporate heavy-hitters and is packed with Liberal insiders, and has long been considered by those in the know as the defacto chamber of commerce between Canada and China.

Power Corporation, SNC-Lavalin, CITIC, Bombardier and other influential multinational corporations formed the council. They potentially stood to benefit from this arrangement.

Some outlets mused that joining the AIIB may have allowed SNC-Lavalin to circumvent its World Bank ban after being barred for ten years following bribery allegations and embezzlement charges in 2013. That opportunity never presented itself, however since the AIIB adopted sanctions on debarred entities similar to its competitors.

Ironically, Bill Morneau, Justin Trudeau’s disgraced former finance minister, opened negotiations with the bank with AIIB President Jin Liqun in 2016, after Chrystia Freeland met with PRC officials in talks at the CCBC. Morneau would retire after participating in several Liberal political scandals, including the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Morneau also hosted an event in Beijing at the 40th Annual General Meeting of the CCBC along with AIIB President Jin Liqin. Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was an honoured guest at the event, along with his son-in-law André Desmarais, also chairman of CCBC founding member Power Corporation.

As Morneau addressed the CCBC while in Beijing, and pledged to increase cooperation between our countries. Media was forbidden from covering the exclusive event between Canadian and PRC officials. A statement from Morneau’s office said they were “concerned” that the free press was not permitted to cover the event.

Another clue exists embedded in a 2017 Globe and Mail story. Quietly unfolding behind the scenes during this was the story of two Canadian citizens detained by China since 2016; the story of John Chang and Allison Lu. Chrystia Freeland was charged with securing their release, and a note from the CCBC story said that “the couple's situation underlines the need for a bilateral free-trade deal to help clarify the rules so Canadians do not get caught up in the Chinese justice system."

Bob Pickard hinted in his posts that he has more to say and that he would follow up with the Government of Canada to detail and add to his story.

Canada can slowly start to decouple from the Bank if the political will exists.

The Bank's Articles of Agreement state that the AIIB needs six months’ notice. It’s unclear whether Freeland has served the Bank yet with an intent to withdraw, in which case we will [eventually] get our capital contributions back.

Canadians have now been assured by Deputy Prime Minister Freeland that they will get to the bottom of the allegations of thuggery within the institution by launching a thorough review.

She is, after all, on the Board of Governors of the AIIB herself.

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