ELLIOT LAKE and TORONTO, ONT. – The mall owner who’s received much of the blame for the Elliot Lake mall collapse pulled up to the inquiry on Tuesday morning, where the public would hear his account for the first time since the Algo Centre mall killed two women last summer.
“It’s my birthday, so I feel very good,” Bob Nazarian told Global News reporter Jennifer Tryon.
When asked what he wanted the community to know, he simply said: the truth.
“I mean that we have purchased the property, we have maintained it properly and that building was not built properly right from the beginning,” he said. “They have concealed all the information from us, and [an] accident happened.”
Watch the exchange between Global News and Nazarian on the way into the inquiry July 23:
Nazarian said he wasn’t “accusing anyone at this point” but believes he did “more than enough” to keep the mall safe.
“Do you think everybody would have a million dollars in his pocket to spare at any moment? It was hard business,” he responded, when asked about the recommendation to replace the entire roof.
“Very hard to make money, very hard to maintain it properly…in one word, it was a white elephant.”
On the stand Tuesday, Nazarian is being questioned on how much he knew about the state of the mall and what he did about it.
Commission counsel Peter Doody produced various financial documents suggesting Nazarian had made around $10 million in profits before the mall’s purchase, and showed statements signed by Nazarian pegging his net worth at $2.5 million in 2008.
Nazarian couldn’t explain why he didn’t report $490,000 he was paid in management fees on his taxes, and blamed his accountant for four different 2009 financial statements showing income from his company ranging from a net loss of $209,000 to a profit of $418,592.
“I’m not an accountant and I cannot give you an accurate answer,” Nazarian said. “It’s a sloppy job, I agree.”
When asked, “what happened to the money?” he replied, “That’s a very interesting question.”
Nazarian said he “had not been told there was millions in expenses” and that he had planned to “purchase to sell and make profit.” He told the inquiry he wanted to sue former mall owners Retirement Living and Nordev for misrepresenting the mall, but his lawyer advised him against doing so.
“They said the mall is in sound situation – there’s nothing wrong with it,” Nazarian said, and relied on a pre-mortgage bank inspection as to its good repair.
Instead, he said he discovered the problems after he bought it.
“We were going down rapidly. We were knocking every door to try to bring this mall to good shape.”
The inquiry heard that in an effort to be more appealing to the bank when applying for a mortgage, Nazarian asked engineer Bob Wood to remove photos showing structural deficiencies, and tarps covering areas of the ceiling in an inspection report just before the collapse in June 2012.
When asked if details of “ongoing” leakage were also removed from the report, Nazarian replied “possibly, yes.”
Nazarian’s son testified last week they plowed money into stop-gap repairs while they tried to sell the mall or raise cash for a proper fix.
However, he said the bank and city thwarted their best efforts to remedy the financially ruinous situation.
With files from The Canadian Press
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