Trudeau ‘satisfied’ with Stephen Bronfman’s explanation after Paradise Papers leak

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s satisfied with the explanation top Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman gave after coming under fire for his ties to an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands exposed in the Paradise Papers.

Bronfman insisted Monday that he “has never funded nor used offshore trusts.”

His statement made no mention of his Montreal-based investment company Claridge Inc., which documents show had close business ties with the Cayman Islands-based Kolber Trust.

In his response to the leak of tax haven records, Bronfman said he had no “direct or indirect involvement” with the trust other than an arm’s length loan made “over a quarter century ago” that was repaid five months later.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam on Wednesday, Trudeau said he accepts Bronfman’s public assurances that he has followed all the rules.

“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 during a news conference inside Vietnam’s presidential palace.

“We have done much in regards to tax avoidance and tax evasion, including working with international partners, 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.”

Trudeau made the 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.

Other prime ministers named

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.

The questions around Bronfman gave political foes fresh ammunition to accuse Trudeau of leading an ethically challenged government.

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.

The names of former Liberal prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin also appear in some of the 13.4 million leaked financial documents.

The papers show Chrétien lobbied for a company called Madagascar Oil, which hoped to pump ultra-heavy crude from some of the island country’s remote but potentially massive oil fields.

He said he thought the company was based in Houston and never knew it was actually incorporated in Bermuda.

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

“Any news report that suggests I have or ever had or was associated in any way with any offshore account is false.”

The offshore holdings of former prime minister Martin’s family have proliferated in the years since he left public office, the Paradise Papers show.

Canada Steamship Lines, Martin’s former shipping empire that he left to his sons in 2003, is one of the “largest clients” of the offshore law firm at the heart of the huge leak, according to an email exchange between firm managers in 2015.

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Trudeau ‘satisfied’ with Stephen Bronfman’s explanation after Paradise Papers leak

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