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Alexandre Trudeau, brother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, prepares to appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, studying foreign interference, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on May 3.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Alexandre Trudeau, a founding member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Prime Minister’s younger brother, dismissed reports that the charity was the target of foreign interference, saying two Chinese men who made donations are respected and admired in China.

Mr. Trudeau appeared Wednesday before the House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics after he asked to testify on recent events involving the foundation, which was set up in 2002 with a $125-million endowment by the government of Jean Chrétien.

He said he rejects the suggestion that two Chinese donors contributed to the foundation in an effort to influence him or his family on behalf of the Chinese government. “No state, and no individual attempted to influence the Canadian government through the foundation.”

He told MPs that the two donors of record, Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng, are men of “standing” in their home country. “They’re admired in China.”

Mr. Trudeau said to MPs that he signed the donation agreement and that it was the only time he had done so on behalf of the foundation, a point Conservative MPs focused on. He said his signature was required because the donation involved the University of Montreal and it needed his approval as a representative of the Trudeau family in order to use his father’s name.

Last Friday, former Trudeau Foundation president Pascale Fournier told MPs that she believes the non-profit organization’s earlier leadership misled the country by characterizing a donation from wealthy Chinese benefactors as a Canadian donation.

The Globe and Mail has reported that Mr. Zhang is president of the China Cultural Industry Association, a government-backed body that promotes Chinese soft power around the world. He is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body. And, according to a now-deleted profile of him on the industry association website, he is a member of the ruling Communist Party.

Mr. Trudeau, 49, is two years younger than his brother, the Prime Minister. Alexandre Trudeau has worked as a documentary filmmaker and journalist.

In 2016, he published a book called Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China, describing his visits to China dating back to family trips led by his father, Pierre Trudeau, who was prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and then from 1980 until 1984.

Ms. Fournier, who resigned her post earlier this month, testified before the Commons ethics committee Friday on the crisis at the publicly financed foundation that arose after The Globe reported that Beijing orchestrated $1-million in donations to the foundation and the University of Montreal law school in hopes of influencing Justin Trudeau, who ultimately became Prime Minister.

The foundation publicly identified Mr. Zhang, a Chinese billionaire, and fellow Chinese businessman, Mr. Gensheng, as the donors. They were also credited in the organization’s annual report for their pledge of $200,000 – of which $140,000 was eventually donated.

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However, Ms. Fournier said she can’t be sure who the true donor was – and told MPs that she was proposing a forensic audit of the matter before she left her position.

She noted that the first 2016 tax receipt, for an initial $70,000 donation instalment, was made out to a Canadian subsidiary of a Chinese company and it was sent to an address in Beijing – one later identified as that of a Chinese-state-backed industry association.

She criticized the way in which the foundation advertised this donation to Canadians. She noted that former president Morris Rosenberg wrote an open letter in December, 2016 – in response to media coverage – saying that the first $70,000 instalment was “not recorded as a foreign donation since it was paid by a Canadian entity.”

A tax receipt obtained by The Globe under access-to-information law shows that the 2016 tax receipt for the instalment was issued to Millennium Golden Eagle International (Canada), the Canadian subsidiary of a Chinese company.

The same trove of documents obtained under access to information also shows that the Chinese cultural group later asked that the tax receipt be reissued to its address in Beijing, not the address in Hong Kong.

“I think this is something that is misleading to Canadians,” Ms. Fournier told MPs. “There is a difference between the tax receipt – what it said, mentioning China – and the fact that it was presented publicly, in terms of interviews and publicly in terms of the annual report” as a Canadian donation.

Alexandre Trudeau defended the donation, saying it came from a “private company in good standing in Canada.”

He criticized Ms. Fournier’s management of the controversy and defended the two donors, saying they are well-known philanthropists.

“I, by the way, still have no reason to believe their motives were not honourable,” he said.

He said the problem the foundation faces now is a “management crisis” fuelled by “significant mistakes” by Ms. Fournier.

The former CEO told MPs last week that she wanted an independent investigation and said that “there was friction with the board and the trust was broken.”

Mr. Trudeau said the foundation is now setting up an independent investigation of the donations.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper later took issue with a comment that Mr. Trudeau made in which he said Chinese diplomats were present during discussions about the donations to provide “free translation services,” because neither of the two donors spoke English.

“It simply is absurd,” said Mr. Cooper, who also questioned why the accounting of the donation did not raise concerns.

“I don’t think any Canadian who’s serious about Beijing interference would view such a company to be a company in good standing – at least certainly wouldn’t consider it to be a true Canadian company,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s brother acknowledged that China has changed in the past six or seven years.

“The risks of China doing malign interference in this country grow by the day and should be taken very seriously,” he told MPs.

He said that in 2015 and 2016, China was “not the hard place it has now become and we were not on our guard in the same way. No one was.”

The remaining directors of the Trudeau Foundation responded to Ms. Fournier’s testimony on Friday. They said in a statement that they dispute “several of the statements” made including “some of the facts or their interpretation,” the foundation’s internal governance processes, reason given for the board resignations and “conflict-of-interest allegations” about some directors.

In February, The Globe reported, citing a national-security source, that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had intercepted a 2014 conversation between Mr. Zhang and an unnamed commercial attaché at one of China’s consulates in Canada. They discussed the federal election that was expected to take place in 2015, and the possibility that the Liberals would defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and form the next government.

The diplomat told Mr. Zhang that Beijing would reimburse him for the entire amount of the donation to the Trudeau Foundation, according to the source. The Globe is not naming the source because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act.

In 2016, nine months after Justin Trudeau won a majority government, the Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal publicly identified Mr. Zhang and Mr. Niu as the donors behind a $1-million gift. The men pledged $200,000 to the foundation, which commemorates Mr. Trudeau’s father.

They also pledged $750,000 to the law school where Pierre Trudeau studied and taught, and $50,000 for a statue of the former prime minister that was never built. The school and the foundation ultimately received most, but not all, of the promised amounts.

Ms. Fournier and eight board members resigned from the Trudeau Foundation on April 10.

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