Let’s pull back the curtain, for a moment, on newsrooms.
Newsrooms love having an Exclusive story, which aren’t usually exclusive for long. Once an Exclusive comes out, other newsrooms often pick it up and start running their own version – these are called Follows.
Except sometimes there are no Follows, which is the problem with Exclusives – you may never know about them.
The Exclusive may have involved hours of research and sources that cannot be properly replicated by other news outlets, and sometimes it just boils down to plain old professional jealousy (it takes a certain amount of humility for one newsroom to Follow another).
In Saskatchewan, many newsrooms have been decimated by cutbacks. They are overburdened and under-resourced. The reporters we have left are amazingly talented individuals, but they simply can’t get to it all.
Any or all of these reasons is why overall Saskatchewan media coverage of the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) has been sporadic. It’s been CBC iTeam reporter Geoff Leo’s story from the beginning; he has logged hundreds of hours investigating and reporting the scandal. It’s not an easy story, and not one that can be easily replicated.
Recently Leo revealed another disturbing branch of the GTH story. Because of rampant greed and potential corruption, lives have been ruined and a woman is dead. Just because you may not have heard about this latest bombshell does not mean it is not an extraordinary and crucially important development.
So, I will try to bring you up to speed by summarizing (many of the links are to documents shared in his story) Leo’s latest here.
You may remember Brightenview Development International from such projects as the Dundurn Megamall, or their other Megamall in Ontario, or the conveniently timed pre-2016 election deal to buy high-priced land at the GTH.
Brightenview’s plan is to build a business hub in Saskatchewan so Chinese entrepreneurs can move here to sell their products, in person, to North American buyers. First that hub was going to be the Dundurn Megamall. Now it appears it will be the Global Trade Exhibition Centre (GTEC) which Brightenview claims will be built at the GTH.
In the summer of 2012, shortly after they got Dundurn’s blessing to build their
Monorail Megamall, businessmen Joe Zhou and Mike Niu launched Brightenview Development International. Mike and Joe were already business partners; together they had each previously founded businesses which as a whole comprised the Toronto-based Canmax group of companies.
The two men were quick to link their businesses. Canmax became a key stakeholder in Brightenview: promoting the Megamall in China, offering immigration services to Saskatchewan consulting to wannabe Brightenview tenants, and posting job ads for Brightenview on the Canmax website.
Leo’s story reveals that today, some of the Canmax group of companies are facing dozens of lawsuits from potential Chinese immigrants who claim Canmax took their money and gave them nothing but the runaround in return. In statements of defence Canmax denies it has done anything wrong.
Joe, and the Canmax companies he directed, managed to avoid being sued. Mike and his Canmax companies, however, are being sued like it’s going out of style.
In the CBC story, Brightenview insists that they have severed every last strand of their relationship with Canmax. I mean, just a few weeks ago their website said Canmax was the company that would provide settlement services for Brightenview projects, and it listed to Canmax as one of its corporate partners… but okay.
In Leo’s latest story we learn about Sophia Li, a Toronto nurse who in 2012 gave Canmax $60,000 – the life savings of her extended family – to help her sister and a nephew immigrate to Saskatchewan from China. After years of frustration, she is now in court fighting to get the money back. Meanwhile, another sister accused Sophia of pocketing the money herself, a charge so painful and dishonorable that it led Sophia’s elderly mother to kill herself in 2015.
We also meet Richard Xie, who in 2011 paid Canmax $25,000 to help his sister immigrate to Saskatchewan. By August 2015 no progress had been made and Xie was suspicious, so he contacted the Saskatchewan government himself. Imagine his surprise when he learned they had rejected his sister’s application in 2013. After a little more digging Xie also discovered that the job offer provided by Canmax to his sister from a Saskatoon company was fake – the address, and the company, didn’t exist.
So it’s not like the Saskatchewan government didn’t know about the issues with Canmax. In fact, in 2014 an official from Bill Boyd’s Ministry of the Economy contacted the federal government to advise that they had a “whole bunch” of Canmax applications which they believed included fake job offers.
Oh, and then there’s this: Mike Niu (remember, cofounder of Brightenview and Canmax) and his Lady Friend Jesse have been wanted by the Chinese government for loan fraud since 2014.
When the CBC asked who is now running the Brightenvantage office in Vancouver:
“…oh, God — I’m not even sure. I’m not even sure who’s running (Brightenvantage) in Vancouver,” replied the CEO (“not even sure” – the CEO!) of Brightenvantage, former NDP MP Lorne Nystrom, who is also Brightenview’s vice-president of government relations.
(I actually think my favorite part of this whole story is listening to the SaskParty government and their past-their-expiry-date surrogates eagerly siding with their new BFF, Tom-No-Pipelines-Mulcair supporter and diehard left-winger Lorne Nystrom.)
Back to Mike – he’s still up to his neck in lawsuits, and his name was taken off all Canmax corporate registries shortly after he showed up on Interpol.
On February 3, 2016, then Minister of the Economy/GTH Bill Boyd signed a land sale agreement with Brightenview that has since been heavily, and almost singularly, trotted out by the Saskatchewan government as proof that the GTH is a super-successful business that is definitely not sucking the taxpayer dry. They also signed a “co-operation agreement”.
“GTH is the lead agency empowered by government to work with Brightenview on the proposed projects,” Boyd wrote. “Please engage the relevant resources within government and any external agencies to assist as necessary.”
In other words, the provincial government was going all in (with your tax dollars) to back Brightenview.
Maybe this is why last fall Premier Brad Wall and a passel of delegates, including some from the GTH and Brightenview, were in Beijing talking up the GTH and specifically GTEC, Brightenview’s new and exciting project.
Maybe this is why the Saskatchewan government lined up beside Brightenview at the cheesiest sod-turning event (and not the least because of those white pants) this province may have ever seen.
I don’t even have any words for how unbelievably stupid this is. I mean, the fact these were the Dundurn Megamall folks didn’t cause a moment of pause for anyone?
If they were unwilling to overlook that, how about the fact that up until the day before Boyd signed those agreements, Mike Niu, an internationally wanted man (the government of Saskatchewan has an office in Shanghai, so there’s no excuse for them not knowing this), was still listed on the Saskatchewan corporate registry as a director and majority shareholder of Brightenview?
He was removed from the register the same day everybody got out their signin’ pens.
“Okay,” I can hear you thinking, “that’s good, right? They waited until the last possible second, but they did remove Mike from the company.”
CBC phoned the Brightenvantage office in Vancouver, and three separate employees said that Mike was their boss. This news managed to jog Nystrom’s memory a bit.
“Whether he’s doing some stuff in the office off and on, I do not know,” he conceded.
Ah, I see.
Further, according to Leo’s story Mike was replaced by someone named Hua Ma, who also took ownership of Mike’s 90 per cent shares in Brightenview. Hua Ma’s address on the registry is a property owned by Mike’s Lady Friend Jesse.
Oh, and six months after being removed as a director, Mike seemingly registered a web domain for the GTH-based GTEC, using Brightenview’s contact information.
Seriously, does anyone in this government know how to use Google, nevermind do their due diligence before committing our tax dollars to this shit?
So, to recap:
- The Saskatchewan government and the GTH have cheerfully partnered with a company founded, and still connected to a man who has been wanted by the Chinese government for loan fraud.
- The Saskatchewan government and the GTH have cheerfully partnered with a company that up until a few weeks ago, was broadly tied to an immigration company (founded by that guy wanted for fraud) that is facing 20-odd lawsuits filed on behalf of prospective Chinese immigrants who say it ripped them off.
- The success of the Saskatchewan government’s partnership with this company, key to the future of the GTH, hinges on the Saskatchewan government’s speedy approval of the immigration applications of hundreds of Chinese business people through the province’s immigrant nominee program.
And you know what?
What I laid out here is just the tip of the iceberg.
This story has continued to unravel in many more bizarre and disturbing ways, all detailed at CBC.ca/Sask’s GTH reporting link.
In my next post I’ll help you follow the trail of bread crumbs… which I promise and guarantee you will one day end at the feet of people in jail cells across Canada.
For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
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