Two Conservative senators – one with close ties to Beijing – set up a private consulting business this year with partners who are involved in attracting investment from China to Newfoundland and Labrador, corporate records show.
Senator Victor Oh, who recently said he has not conducted any "personal business" in Canada or China since his appointment to the Red Chamber in 2013, formed a St. John's-based company in April with Senator David Wells.
Mr. Wells would not say whether Signal Hill Management is pursuing business deals with China-based entities.
The two senators' business partners in Signal Hill Management are Frank Xiaofeng Huang, who once worked for Beijing's state-owned China Development Bank, and Jack Jun Tan. Little is known about Mr. Tan.
In February, 2017, Mr. Wells helped found the China-Newfoundland and Labrador Business Association (CNLBA), along Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan, according to corporate filings.
Mr. Oh is an unpaid "honorary patron" of this new group, his office said.
Mr. Oh, a Toronto businessman appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper, is a frequent traveller to China and prominent at banquets and events in Canada where Chinese diplomats and Communist Party officials are invited guests. He has accepted trips paid for by the governments of Jilin, Hainan and Hubei provinces, as well as business groups and Chinese airlines.
Mr. Oh and two other senators are being investigated by the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer over an all-expenses-paid trip to China in April.
In a Dec. 1 e-mail to fellow senators defending his travel record to China, Mr. Oh wrote that "I have never conducted any personal business in China or here in Canada since my appointment to the Red Chamber in 2013."
The Globe and Mail has reported that since 2006, Canadian MPs and senators have taken 36 trips to China sponsored by arms of the Chinese government or business groups seeking closer ties and trade with the world's second-biggest economy.
Mr. Oh walked past a Globe reporter on Wednesday and refused to answer any questions about his business activities in Newfoundland. Late Wednesday evening, Mr. Oh's assistant e-mailed The Globe to say the senator resigned his directorship in Signal Hill Management but did not specify what date this took place.
The Senate ethics office would not say when the two senators disclosed their directorships in Signal Hill Management. Senate rules require senators to update their disclosure statements within 30 day of any material change.
"We cannot comment further on the matter at this time, as we are bound by confidentiality under the [Conflict of Interest] Code," the Senate ethics office said in an e-mail to The Globe.
Senate rules do not bar senators from operating businesses outside their parliamentary duties provided they declare the activities to the ethics office.
Mr. Wells is the former deputy CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which manages oil and gas offshore reserves on behalf of Ottawa and the province.
Mr. Wells also would not say whether another company, LH Signal Hill Corp., is doing business with China. Mr. Wells is listed as a director of this company along with Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan.
Those filings show that Signal Hill Management, LH Signal Hill and CNLBA are located at the same address as Mr. Huang's home in a suburb of St. John's – as is Sino-Can Consulting Ltd., which lists Mr. Huang as a director.
Mr. Huang works full time as the business manager for Kvaerner, a Norwegian engineering and construction firm with offices in St. John's. Before he joined Kvaerner, he worked as loan officer at China Development Bank and at Beijing-based CRC Pinnacle, a consulting firm whose clients included state-owned China Mobile and China Telecom. He did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.
Mr. Huang's direct supervisor at Kvaerner, Bill Fanning, said he was unaware of Mr. Huang's business ties with the two Conservative senators. He recalled that he met Mr. Wells and Mr. Oh two years ago when "they were talking to the local Chinese community about opportunities to collaborate."
The Senate ethics watchdog is investigating an all-expenses-paid trip to China by Mr. Oh and Conservative senators Don Plett and Leo Housakos and their spouses to determine whether it should have been declared as a gift or sponsored travel.
Chinese media have reported that Senator Victor Oh and his Senate colleagues travelled to China in April, 2017, at the invitation of a Beijing-based wealth management firm that recently opened up an office in Vancouver.
The two-week trip to Beijing and Fujian province was not disclosed to the Senate ethics office as either sponsored travel or a gift. Mr. Housakos gave conflicting accounts of who paid for the trip.
But Mr. Oh later told The Globe and the Senate ethics office that he did not believe the senators had to declare the trip because his "family" picked up the tab for airline tickets, hotels, meals and transportation. The purpose of the trip, he said, was to visit his ancestral home in Fujian province.