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Paradise Papers: Jean Chrétien fires back, denies holding offshore accounts

Former prime minister Jean Chretien is anxious to distance himself from the so-called Paradise Papers. .
Former prime minister Jean Chretien is anxious to distance himself from the so-called Paradise Papers. . CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien pushed back on Monday after a series of news stories linked him to offshore banking as part of the so-called Paradise Papers leak.

“Any news report that suggests I have or ever had or was associated in any way with any offshore account is false,” Chrétien wrote in a statement issued early Monday afternoon.

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READ MORE: Leaked ‘Paradise Papers’ show alleged financial dealings of Canadian, U.S. politicians, Queen

The Paradise Papers are a series of leaked documents obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network that includes the Toronto Star and CBC/Radio-Canada.

The leak covers 13.4 million records, according to The Star, including files from two offshore law firms and 19 corporate registries from traditional tax havens. The newspaper reported that the documents list Chrétien as having received share options in a Madagascar oil venture registered in Bermuda.

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“While as a lawyer for Heenan Blaikie I did some work for Madagascar Oil as a client of the law firm, all fees were billed by the law firm and went to the law firm,” Chrétien explained in his release.

“I never received any share options and I never had a bank account outside Canada.”

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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is also caught up in the massive leak. His name was listed as he once sat on the board of a Bermuda-based company controlled by Syrian-Saudi businessman Wafic Said.

The Star reported that Mulroney’s lawyer said the former Progressive Conservative leader is proud to have served on the board and considers Said “a good friend.”

‘Paradise Papers’ reveals Liberal Party fundraiser’s alleged use of tax scheme

‘Paradise Papers’ reveals Liberal Party fundraiser’s alleged use of tax scheme
‘Paradise Papers’ reveals Liberal Party fundraiser’s alleged use of tax scheme

Mulroney and Chrétien are just two of the familiar names appearing in the documents, which trace how offshore tax havens have been used to avoid higher tax rates in countries like Canada.

Former prime minister Paul Martin has been linked indirectly through his former company, Canada Steamship Lines. The firm is reportedly one of the biggest clients of offshore firm Appleby’s, which is at the centre of the leak.

While Canada does not calculate the “tax gap” — the difference between the amount of money the Canada Revenue Agency takes in versus what it should take in — estimates suggest government coffers are deprived of $6 billion to $7.8 billion a year as a result of offshore activity.

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Paradise Papers: What is the leak and how are wealthy Canadians involved?

Much of the activity involving offshore banking is legal, however, and there is no suggestion that any of the former prime ministers broke the law.

All three were, coincidentally, on Parliament Hill on Monday for a photo opportunity to mark 150 years since Canada’s first sitting of Parliament. None offered any additional comment.

Lebouthillier, Trudeau respond

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier responded to the leak after a cabinet meeting on Monday, calling offshore tax havens “a global problem.”

“Our government clearly indicated two years ago that tax evasion and tax avoidance was a priority,” she said in French, adding that the government has made “historic investments” of close to $1 billion to try to get its hands on owed taxes.

Lebouthillier also said that “the population is right to be upset” about the Paradise Papers.

During Question Period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated the government’s commitment to taking “every appropriate action” in the wake of the leak to crack down on offshore tax avoidance.

WATCH: PM defends Liberal party’s chief fundraiser amid Paradise Paper links

Trudeau defends Liberal party’s chief fundraiser from Paradise Paper links
Trudeau defends Liberal party’s chief fundraiser from Paradise Paper links

Trudeau’s longtime friend (and top Liberal Party fundraiser) Stephen Bronfman is linked to the Paradise Papers through a legal Cayman Islands trust fund, and the opposition Conservatives hammered him on those ties on Monday.

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“Wealthy friends like Stephen Bronfman always get away with paying less,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

NDP House leader Guy Caron, similarly, said the government is always “letting the big fish go.” Bronfman, meanwhile, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

“Stephen Bronfman is a proud Canadian and has always fully complied with all legal requirements, including with respect to taxes,” said a release issued by Bronfman on Monday.

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“Stephen Bronfman has never funded nor used offshore trusts. His Canadian trusts have paid all taxes on all their income to the Canadian government.”