HANOI, Vietnam – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s satisfied with the public explanation provided by a top Liberal fundraiser whose name surfaced in leaked documents that provide details on legal, offshore tax havens used by the wealthy.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trudeau said he’s accepted assurances by Stephen Bronfman that he has followed all the rules.
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In a statement this week after the release of the so-called “Paradise Papers,” Bronfman said he never funded nor used offshore trusts, and that all his Canadian trusts have paid all federal taxes on their income.
Trudeau made his comments in response to a question asking why Bronfman, also a close friend of the prime minister, appeared to still be in his position as a key Liberal fundraiser.
The prime minister did not directly answer the question about Bronfman’s role in the party, nor would he say his friend’s name in his response.
“In regards to the specific case you mentioned, 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 said during a news conference inside Vietnam’s presidential palace.
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“We have done much in regards to tax avoidance and tax evasion, including working with international partners,” he said.
“But we also recognize there is much more to do and you can rest assured that Canada Revenue Agency will take very seriously its responsibility to go after everyone and anyone involved in tax avoidance and tax evasion.”
Tax avoidance measures involving offshore trusts are legal, provided that the trust is genuinely managed offshore and that Canadian taxes are paid on any Canadian contributions. And there may be other legitimate reasons for setting up an offshore account, including if you’re a contractor doing work in a particular country.
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Still, the questions around Bronfman gave political foes fresh ammunition to accuse Trudeau of leading an ethically-challenged government.
In his statement, Bronfman said he made a single loan to the trust on an arm’s-length, fully commercial basis some 25 years ago that was repaid five months later, a transaction that was fully in compliance with Canadian law.
The name of former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien also appeared in the 13.4 million leaked documents, in a register of investors in Madagascar Oil. It lists Chretien as having received 100,000 stock options.
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In a brief statement of his own, Chrétien said Madagascar Oil was a client of Heenan Blaikie, a now-defunct Canadian law firm. As a lawyer with the firm, Chrétien said he did some work for Madagascar Oil, but all fees were billed by and paid to the law firm itself.
“I never received any share options and I never had a bank account outside Canada,” he said.
“Any news report that suggests I have or ever had or was associated in any way with any offshore account is false.”
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