The fraud trial of Toronto businessman Weizhen Tang was already somewhat unusual, but the proceedings took a bizarre twist Monday when Mr. Tang took the witness stand to launch his defence.
Once sworn in, Mr. Tang attacked securities regulators as destroyers of businesses, proclaimed his many investment successes and explained that he was once questioned by CSIS agents who thought he was spying for the Chinese government. “They asked me not to tell,” Mr. Tang told the jury with a smile.
As for the Ontario Securities Commission, Mr. Tang said he is being unfairly persecuted, and then cited the commission’s track record in fraud cases, saying it “has a hard time to convict [anyone] because they don’t know how.”
Mr. Tang, who calls himself a “Chinese Warren Buffett,” has been a colourful defendant since being charged with one count of fraud over allegations he misused more than $20-million of investors’ cash in his investment fund, the Overseas Chinese Fund. Not only has he denied the allegations, he also ran for mayor of Toronto in 2010 on a platform that consisted largely of attacking the criminal charge and the OSC, which shut his fund in 2009.
Crown prosecutors and the OSC have alleged Mr. Tang falsified documents, ran a Ponzi scheme and did not register his fund with regulators. Several witnesses have testified about their losses and alleged misrepresentations by Mr. Tang.
Mr. Tang, 54, is representing himself and, on Monday, he called himself as his first witness. He addressed the jury in broken English, declining a Mandarin translator he has used for most of the trial. Before taking the stand, he gave each juror a copy of his book: The Chinese Warren Buffett. The King of 1% Weekly Returns.
With the help of a court-appointed legal adviser, Peter Boushy, Mr. Tang spoke about growing up in a small village in China, studying science and moving to Canada in 1988 to earn a postgraduate degree in biology from the University of Waterloo. He eventually got a job as a research assistant at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and became fascinated with the stock market. Soon he was investing money given to him by colleagues at the hospital, trading mutual funds in his spare time from his lab duties. He said he generated a 40-per-cent return in his first year, adding: “Nobody knows how to make money. … Everybody comes to me.”
He left Sick Kids in 1996 to start an investment business with $4-million from colleagues. He quickly became well known in the Chinese community in Canada and parts of the United States, giving seminars, writing books and managing money. He won an Ontario volunteer award, served on several volunteer boards and became a “media sensation.”
He caught the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2008 after organizing a large pro-China rally in Ottawa. Agents questioned him for hours about whether he worked for the Chinese government. Mr. Tang denied any government ties and said CSIS never questioned him again.
In early 2009, his fund ran into trouble and some investors panicked, prompting the OSC to close it. The OSC alleges Mr. Tang used money from new investors to cover losses for others. On Monday, he acknowledged using a $1-million investment to cover losses but insisted the money was his own, because it was an investment in his company. He said the allegations and the proceedings have left him so penniless he can’t get a job and the gas to his house has been cut off twice. “I have no intention, never, to defraud any investor,” he said.
Crown prosecutors will cross-examine Mr. Tang later this week.