Bronfman’s name was among that of over 3,000 Canadian individuals and entities to pop up in a massive trove of leaked documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, detailing the use of offshore tax havens by the wealthy and powerful.
The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), largely belonged to offshore law and corporate services firms.
The records suggest Bronfman and his family’s investment company Claridge Inc. were linked to a Cayman Islands trust that may have used questionable means to avoid paying millions in taxes, according to the ICIJ.
Bronfman’s revenue chair post effectively makes him the federal Liberals’ chief fundraiser, but the party sought to downplay the significance of his position in a statement provided shortly after the revelations.
“The role of revenue chair is a non-voting position,” Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley told Global News. “Mr. Bronfman’s role with the Liberal Party of Canada is as a volunteer, and has consisted strictly of assisting the board on matters related to building on the Liberal movement’s strong grassroots fundraising support, not policy decisions.”
Asked whether the Liberals vetted Bronfman’s financial connections when he volunteered to head the party’s fundraising arm, Caley said the party “does not have any involvement in the personal financial affairs of any of its thousands of volunteers across Canada.”
The son of billionaire industrialist Charles Bronfman, Stephen Bronfman was tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in August 2013 to head up the federal Liberals’ fundraising efforts. A close friend of Trudeau’s, Bronfman was credited with helping raise $2 million during Trudeau’s leadership campaign.
He was also one of the Canadian dignitaries invited to a White House state dinner in March 2016, during Trudeau’s official trip to Washington, D.C.
Bronfman wasn’t the only Liberal fundraising heavyweight involved in the Cayman Islands trust, with former senator Leo Kolber and his son Jonathan Kolber linked to the same entity.
William Brock, a lawyer for Bronfman and Jonathan Kolber, denied any impropriety, telling the CBC that his clients “have always acted properly and ethically, including fully complying with all applicable laws.” Any suggestion of “false documentation, fraud, ‘disguised’ conduct, tax evasion or similar conduct is false,” Brock added.
Former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were also named in the documents, though not in connection with Bronfman or Claridge Inc.
Mulroney and Martin were linked to offshore holdings in Bermuda, while Chretien was revealed to have been offered stock options by a Madagascar-based oil company as a fee for his consulting services, according to the documents.
None of the Canadians have been accused of wrongdoing by the Canada Revenue Agency or any court.
Offshore accounts are regularly used by wealthy individuals and companies as a perfectly legal way to reduce their tax burden, although the anonymity provided to account holders has led to associations tax evasion, money laundering and organized crime.
— With files from The Canadian Press