The former head of the Trudeau Foundation testified Friday at the House of Commons, stating her predecessor misled Canadians by denoting a controversial donation from Beijing sympathizers as a "Canadian donation."
Pascale Fournier spoke with the Commons ethics committee on the alleged plot to influence Prime Minister Justin Trudeau through foreign donations amounting to $1 million.
The Globe and Mail first alleged a Chinese diplomat met with billionaire Bin Zhang to discuss the possibility of the Liberals forming the government in 2015. An unnamed security source said the diplomat instructed Zhang to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation.
Seven months into Trudeau's first term as prime minister, Zhang attended a party fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chair Benson Wong, which Trudeau attended as the guest of honour.
Weeks after the fundraiser, the Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal announced that Zhang and Niu Gensheng donated $1 million "to honour the memory and leadership" of Pierre Trudeau, who, as prime minister, opened diplomatic relations with China in 1970.
Fournier confirmed that of that donation, the Trudeau Foundation only received $140,000 through two installments of $70,000.
The wealthy businessmen pledged $750,000 to the University of Montreal's law faculty — where Trudeau senior studied and taught — and $50,000 for a statue of the former prime minister the institution never built.
On Friday, Fournier told the ethics committee she does not know the identity of the donor but said she proposed a forensic audit before leaving her position on April 10 alongside eight board members.
Edward Johnson, one of the three remaining interim board members, announced an independent investigation on April 12 into the donation from Beijing proxies. Fournier said her request for the investigation caused "friction with the board, and the trust was broken."
"I wanted everyone to recuse themselves before the process started. And that was also what the eight resigned board members wanted," she said.
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.
According to documents requested by the publication, a Chinese cultural group asked Canada to reissue the tax receipt to an address in Beijing, not Hong Kong.
Fournier told MPs she had formed an emergency committee after reading The Globe exposé in February on the "unusual" donation. She added that China's government provided "guidance" to the cultural group, who communicated with foundation staff concerning the gift.
"They were giving clear directives on what needed to appear on receipts issued by the foundation, and I found that troubling," said the former head of the foundation. "I also realized that there was a Chinese address, whereas, in the annual report, it was a Canadian address."
Fournier also voiced her displeasure with how the foundation advertised the controversial donation, citing an open letter by former president Morris Rosenberg in December 2016. He claimed the first $70,000 installment was "not recorded as a foreign donation since a Canadian entity paid it."
"I think this is misleading to Canadians," Fournier told MPs. "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."
On Friday, the remaining foundation directors disputed "several of the statements" made by the former head of the non-profit organization. Johnson committed to appearing before the Commons ethics committee to "correct some of the statements or assertions," including the reason for mass resignation and "conflict-of-interest allegations" about some directors.
The prime minister's brother, Alexandre Trudeau, will testify on Wednesday to explain the foundation's work.