Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by party fundraiser Stephen Bronfman, the billionaire who was tied to an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands that may have helped him avoid paying Canadian taxes.
Trudeau has been targeted by the conservative opposition in the House of Commons this week following the release of the Paradise Papers and their allegations of the global super rich using foreign trusts to hide revenue from the tax man.
Talking to reporters in Hanoi on Wednesday, Trudeau said he’s “satisfied with those assurances” that Bronfman has publicly provided about his stated non-involvement with the use of offshore trusts to evade Canadian taxes.
Bronfman said in a statement Monday that he “has never funded nor used offshore trusts.”
But critics are saying Bronfman was far too vague in his denials and did not reference the financial activities of Claridge Inc., his Montreal investment firm that is frequently mentioned in the Paradise Papers. Investigative journalists with CBC News and the Toronto Star broke the news.
It was enough for Trudeau, however.
“We have received assurances that all rules were followed, indeed the same assurances made in the public statement released by the family, and we are satisfied with those assurances,” Trudeau told reporters following his tour in Vietnam, leading up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. He avoided referring Bronfman by name in his give and take with reporters.
Trudeau also reiterated his claim, made just before he left for Hanoi, that his Liberal government has “done much in regards to tax avoidance and tax evasion” while warning that the Canada Revenue Agency “will go after everyone and anyone” if they are suspected of dodging their federal income tax.
Although Trudeau says he’s satisfied with Bronfman’s financial dealings, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is not. He told reporters outside the House of Commons on Wednesday that he is not convinced that the prime minister is sincere in his quest to stifle tax evaders — especially if they might be his friends.
“We have serious concerns about who is Justin Trudeau speaking for. Is he absolving his friend and chief fundraiser of any wrongdoing in advance of any kind of review, in advance of any kind of investigation?” Scheer asked.
“I think what drives Canadians crazy is when they think there’s one set of rules for everyone and a different set of rules for close friends of Liberal ministers or the prime minister.”