The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is returning a substantial donation it received seven years ago from a Chinese billionaire following a media report alleging Beijing attempted to curry favour with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation has learned in recent days through the media that there was a potential connection between the Chinese government and a 2016 pledge of $200,000 to be received by the Foundation," said President and CEO Pascale Fournier in a written statement.
Fournier said the foundation is returning $140,000 of a $200,000 pledge. She said the foundation received two payments of $70,000 each but has yet to receive the rest.
"We cannot keep any donation that may have been sponsored by a foreign government and would not knowingly do so," she added. "In light of these recent allegations, the foundation has refunded all amounts received concerning the donation pledge to the donor."
According to The Globe and Mail, an unnamed national security source informed the publication of an alleged plot by the Chinese government to influence Trudeau after he became prime minister.
The Globe is not identifying the source who risks prosecution under the Security of Information Act.
The source alleged that Beijing instructed Chinese billionaire Bin Zhang to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation in 2014, the year before Trudeau formed the government as leader of the Liberal Party.
The Globe also reported that Zhang is the second wealthy Chinese businessman to donate $1 million in honour of the elder Trudeau in 2016, including $200,000 to the foundation.
However, the Prime Minister's Office said Monday that Trudeau "withdrew his involvement in the affairs of the foundation for the duration of his involvement in federal politics."
Fournier confirmed the prime minister removed himself from the organization after becoming the Liberal Party leader.
On the broader issue of election interference by Beijing, the Commons procedure and House affairs committee heard from Trudeau's National Security Advisor, Jody Thomas, who confirmed China remains a growing threat to Canada.
Though Thomas did not divulge specifics of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections — owing to the Security of Information Act — she did express concerns that whistleblowers leaked highly classified CSIS documents about Chinese election interference tactics.
Trudeau said he wants CSIS to find the leakers who risk prosecution under the same Act.
"I am not going to comment on information that was inappropriately obtained," added Thomas. "The unlawful sharing of information and inappropriate sharing of information, I believe, jeopardizes national security."
The Globe and Mail, citing anonymous security sources, reported that Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
The top-secret CSIS documents outline how Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers and illegally returned portions of donations. They also explained how China spread misinformation and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election.
Though the prime minister said Beijing attempted to meddle in Canada's elections, he referenced two intelligence reports studying foreign influence in elections that said any interference did not affect the outcome of the past two elections.
Intelligence services also urged senior Liberal Party staff to rescind MP Han Dong's nomination over alleged foreign interference, which he vehemently denies.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Global News named Dong a "witting affiliate in China's election interference networks" on February 24.
Global said CSIS surveilled Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament, and named him in a CSIS memo distributed through the Prime Minister's Office.
Thomas cautioned the leaks don't tell the whole story, stating the Global News report that China transferred $250,000 through proxies to candidates in the 2019 federal election was false.
However, Zhang's donation to the Trudeau Foundation entered the public spotlight after The Globe reported Tuesday that CSIS captured a conversation in 2014 between an unnamed commercial attaché at one of China's consulates in Canada and the billionaire.
He served as a political adviser to the government in Beijing and a senior official in China's network of state promoters globally.
According to a national security source, the pair discussed the federal election expected for 2015 and the possibility of the Liberals forming the next government. The source said the diplomat instructed Zhang to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation and told him the Chinese government would reimburse him for the entire amount.
Seven months into Trudeau's first term as prime minister, Zhang attended a Liberal 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.
Of the $1 million, they pledged $200,000 to the Trudeau Foundation, which provides scholarships, academic fellowships and leadership programs.
The two men also pledged $750,000 to the University of Montreal's law faculty to fund scholarships, including grants that help Quebec students visit China. The remaining $50,000 was supposed to go towards erecting a statue of the elder Trudeau, but that was never built.