China

Beijing investigates high official tied to B.C. pulp mill fraud

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Skeena Mill in Prince Rupert. The Skeena Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island in Prince Rupert, once the economic lifeblood of the city, stopped production more than a decade ago, in 2001.

(Andy Hoffman/The Globe and Mail)

One of China’s top officials is under investigation for corruption that includes an alleged bank fraud scheme tied to a long-shuttered pulp mill in northern British Columbia controlled by a businessman linked to several high-ranking members of the B.C. Liberal Party.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China is investigating Liu Tienan, the deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, for alleged “serious disciplinary violations.”

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Mr. Liu ranks among the highest of officials caught up in a sweeping crackdown on corruption led by China’s new President Xi Jinping. The case has ties to a failed investment in the Skeena Cellulose Pulp Mill in Prince Rupert by Chinese businessman Ni Ritao.

The Globe and Mail has previously reported that B.C.’s former Jobs Minister, Pat Bell, forwarded an internal government e-mail discussing fraud allegations published in China against Mr. Ni, the Chinese businessman who purchased the mill. Mr. Bell passed the e-mail on to Bill Belsey, the vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party, who also works for Mr. Ni and appears to have lobbied on behalf of the Chinese businessman and his company.

Mr. Bell passed the e-mail on to Bill Belsey, the vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party, who also works for Mr. Ni and appears to have lobbied on behalf of the Chinese businessman and his company.

Mr. Belsey, a former MLA, is being investigated by a provincial watchdog for failing to register as a lobbyist. Mr. Bell is not running in the election.

Andrew Wilkinson, a former B.C. Liberal Party president and the party’s current candidate in the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena, was once the legal representative of a company controlled by Mr. Ni, whose broken promises regarding plans to restart the shuttered pulp mill in Prince Rupert have cost the city more than $3.5-million in legal and maintenance fees.

Mr. Wilkinson also had dealings with Sun Wave Forest Products, a company also controlled by Mr. Ni, when he served as deputy minister for the Ministry of Economic Development between 2003 and 2006, according to documents obtained by The Globe.

Mr. Liu is alleged to have helped arrange an attempted loan of more than $100-million to Mr. Ni by two Chinese banks. Mr. Ni allegedly claimed the funds would be used to buy the pulp mill in Prince Rupert, an asset that he had already purchased in 2005 for about $9-million. A forged appraisal report valuing the mill at $202-million (U.S.) was used to attempt to secure the loan. The Globe has obtained a copy of the apparently fraudulent document. The appraisal firm named in the document, American Appraisal Canada Inc., denies ever issuing the report.

Mr. Ni’s original investment in the pulp mill was made through a company called CGR Investments Inc., which was incorporated in 2003. CGR later became a subsidiary of Sun Wave, which completed the purchase of the mill. Mr. Liu’s wife, Guo Jinghua, was a director and 10-per-cent shareholder of CGR, according to documents obtained by The Globe. In 2005, her ownership stake in CGR was transferred to Liu Dechang, the son of Liu Tienan and Ms. Guo.

According to Elections BC, Sun Wave and CGR donated $14,696 to the B.C. Liberal Party or election candidates between 2005 and 2007.

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