A founding member of the Trudeau Foundation and brother of Canada's prime minister testified before a Commons Committee Wednesday, where he dismissed labelling a controversial donation from China as foreign interference.
Alexandre Trudeau rejected the assertion of the Commons ethics committee that Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng — the two Chinese donors — attempted to influence the Trudeau family with a $140,000 donation in 2016 to the Trudeau Foundation.
"No state and no individual attempted to influence the Canadian government through the foundation," he firmly said.
On April 28, the former head of the foundation, Pascale Fournier, dismissed her predecessor for misleading Canadians in December 2016 on the nature of the donation. Morris Rosenberg claimed the first $70,000 installment was "not recorded as a foreign donation since a Canadian entity paid it."
According to a 2016 tax receipt, the Trudeau Foundation attributed the first $70,000 installment to a Canadian subsidiary of a Chinese company — later identified in a Globe access-to-information request as the state-backed Millennium Golden Eagle International.
Trudeau told MPs he signed the donation agreement for the foundation only because it involved the University of Montreal. He said it needed the approval of a Trudeau family member to use his father's name.
The wealthy businessmen, named by an anonymous national security source, also pledged $750,000 to the university's law faculty, where Trudeau Sr. studied and taught, and $50,000 for a statue of the former prime minister that the institution never built.
After the Globe and Mail reported that Beijing orchestrated the $1 million donation to influence then-prime ministerial hopeful Justin Trudeau, Fournier said she proposed a forensic audit of the matter before she left her position on April 10, alongside eight board members.
According to the trove of documents, a Chinese cultural group — with ties to Beijing — asked Canada to reissue the tax receipt to an address in Beijing, not Hong Kong.
"There is a difference between the tax receipt — what it said, mentioning China — and the fact that it was presented publicly, in terms of interviews and publicly in terms of the annual report, that is currently on the website of the foundation, as Canadian," Fournier told MPs.
"I realized that there was a Chinese address, whereas, in the annual report, it was a Canadian address," she added.
While Fournier expressed concern over the "unusual" donation, Trudeau defended it, claiming it came from a "private company in good standing in Canada."
He also criticized the former foundation head for creating a "management crisis" surrounding the donation, claiming she made several "significant mistakes."
Trudeau also defended the two donors, who he said are "admired" in China. "I, by the way, still have no reason to believe their motives were not honourable," he told MPs.
A February exposé by the Globe reported that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) intercepted a 2014 conversation between Zhang and an unnamed Chinese diplomat during the 2015 federal election. Supposedly, they discussed the possibility of the Liberals defeating the Conservative Party of Canada to form the next government.
An unnamed national security source claimed Beijing would reimburse Zhang for the entire donation to the Trudeau Foundation. The Globe did not disclose its source because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act.
While the foundation ultimately returned the donation, Fournier requested an independent investigation into the matter, creating friction between board members that eroded trust. Trudeau confirmed the remaining board members are establishing an independent investigation of the Chinese donations.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said on January 30 that Justin Trudeau "withdrew his involvement in the affairs of the foundation for the duration of his involvement in federal politics," which Fournier confirmed.
On April 28, Edward Johnson, one of the three remaining foundation directors, disputed "several of the statements" made by the former head of the non-profit organization.
He also committed to appearing before the ethics committee to "correct some of the statements or assertions," including the reason for mass resignation and "conflict-of-interest allegations" about some directors.