An editor of Caijing Magazine in China recently published accusations against Mr. Liu on the internet. He alleged that family members of Mr. Liu’s were shareholders in one of Mr. Ni’s holding companies that was used in the purchase of the Skeena mill. The Caijing editor also alleged Mr. Liu forged his résumé and threatened to kill his mistress.
The Globe and Mail has obtained and viewed documents that appear to verify some of these claims.
Officials in China’s energy administration denied the Caijing editor’s allegations as “pure rumours.” However, the fact that the story was not censored or removed from Chinese websites and has been picked up by state-linked media outlets suggests the Chinese government is giving the allegations credence.
Caijing published a report last year claiming Mr. Ni attempted to use the mill to secure more than $100-million (U.S.) in loans from state-controlled banks in China. The Caijing report said that in June, 2006, after Mr. Ni had already bought the mill, he applied for the loans, $60-million of which was earmarked for buying a majority stake in Sun Wave, a company he already controlled. Mr. Ni allegedly used forged appraisal documents in the loan application valuing the mill at $202-million. The appraisal firm named in the documents, American Appraisal Canada Inc., when contacted by The Globe and Mail, denied ever issuing the report.
Mr. Ni’s representatives in Canada have said the allegations are untrue and that the loans, which were never approved, were for the cost of restarting the mill. Wei Shao, a lawyer in Vancouver representing Mr. Ni in several lawsuits, said the Caijing story was planted by disgruntled former Sun Wave employees in Canada.
The Skeena saga has also enmeshed a British Columbia cabinet minister. Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that B.C. jobs minister Pat Bell forwarded an internal government email discussing a potential settlement with Mr. Ni and detailing the fraud allegations against him to an employee of the Chinese businessman who is also a B.C. Liberal Party insider and a former MLA.
The explosive Caijing report was discussed at length by B.C. government employees, including Mr. Bell, the jobs minister, in an e-mail chain. Kevin Tsui, a B.C. government worker in Beijing, sent the article and a summary of the allegations against Mr. Ni to staff in B.C. in late November, 2011. “I understand there will be a cross-ministry meeting this week regarding Mr. Ni, Sunwave and developing a settlement framework. Below provides some additional context...,” Mr. Tsui wrote, before describing what he called “fraudulent activities,” including “inappropriate influence of a former NDRC official,” a “dubious loan scheme,” a “fraudulent financial document” and “missing approvals of Chinese regulators.”
The internal ministry correspondence was released under a provincial freedom of information request. Parts of the e-mail chain obtained by The Globe were redacted to comply with government policy to withhold any information containing “policy advice, recommendations or draft regulations” and “disclosure harmful to personal privacy.”
The documents show, however, that Mr. Bell, the cabinet minister, forwarded the entire un-redacted e-mail chain to a man named Bill Belsey. Mr. Belsey is a former B.C. MLA for the Prince Rupert area who is an employee of Sun Wave and has served as a representative of Mr. Ni in Canada. In 2005, a company controlled by Mr. Ni donated $10,000 to Mr. Belsey’s election campaign. Mr. Belsey is also currently the vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party.
Mr. Bell, in interviews, denied wrongdoing. He said the fact that the province was trying to broker a settlement between Mr. Ni and Prince Rupert was “well known in the community.” When asked to show how Mr. Tsui’s mention of the “cross-ministry meeting regarding Mr. Ni” was well known in the community, Mr. Bell refused further comment.
In an interview, Mr. Belsey appeared to suggest he did not know about the government meeting regarding Mr. Ni before he received the email from Mr. Bell. “I don’t know what they do. I don’t know what they were doing,” he said. When asked to clarify whether he knew of the meeting, he said, “How would I know that? ... Before I got an email I would know about a meeting? You have to be kidding me.”
The opposition NDP is calling on the Premier to investigate.
As another rainy winter descends on Prince Rupert, the shuttered mill and Watson Island are still in limbo. The hulking buildings remind former workers of what once was and what might have been.
“That was our bread and butter,” said Ely Abecia, who worked at the mill for two decades and now runs a driving school.