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A Little Crooked House: Trudeau, Morneau, BMO & KPMG Inc

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau has recently reinvigorated his promise to crack down on tax evasion schemes, but how can we trust him when he is himself named in the Panama Papers? This issue, buried in the back-pages of last year’s CBC coverage, is not raised by any of the major media outlets in Canada in connection with Morneau’s current determination to “lay down the gauntlet” on tax loopholes.

In other countries like Iceland and Pakistan, and perhaps even Britain, government leaders have been forced to resign or subjected to criminal investigations as part of the fall-out of the Panama Papers.

If, as the Toronto Star claims, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is now under orders from Morneau to pursue Criminal Charges against “tax cheats”, shouldn’t they be investigating their own boss?  Or is this another case of the old political trick of “hiding in plain sight”?

There is no doubt that as Executive Chair of Morneau Shepell, the pension and investments consulting firm he inherited from his father, Morneau was responsible for hiring the legal services of Lennox Corporate Services Ltd., to set up a tax evasion scheme in the Bahamas.  According to the ICIJ site this was done in February of 2014, and Morneau did not retire from the firm until October 2015.

The excuses offered for Morneau are that, according the CBC, Morneau “resigned from Morneau Shepell and its Bahamian subsidiary before being sworn in as a minister”; and that, according to the National Post, Morneau is subject to a conflict of interest “screen” in regard to his family business.

Wait a minute, won’t Morneau still benefit from the proceeds of his crime when he retires from politics?   What a great maneuver, go into politics in order to escape responsibility for tax evasion!

Now, if you “follow the money” a little further, you find that Morneau is not alone. Take for example his boss, Justin Trudeau’s claim to have been “entirely and completely transparent” about his family’s finances; that is the millions of dollars he inherited from his father (am I beginning to sense a pattern here?).  Yes, he openly said that he placed his money in a “blind” trust with BMO private banking, and yes BMO is professionally audited by one of the Big Four international accounting firms – KPMG, so you will never find Trudeau’s name in the Panama Papers, right?

Not so fast, what about the fact that KPMG is named in the Panama Papers? So, it happens, is BMO Nesbitt Burns, part of the complex private banking system where Trudeau has parked his money!  And what about the fact that KPMG is BMO’s auditor?  And that BMO is the largest contributor to the Trudeau Foundation of the major Canadian Banks etc… and oh, and by the way, KPMG also happen to be the auditors for Morneau Shepell.

The plot thickens when we consider that KPMG is likely also cooking the Liberal Party’s books.  Democracy Watch, has recently accused Trudeau of a conflict of interest by hiring KPMG executive John Herhalt to manage the Liberal Party’s finances.

The problem with KPMG is not just that it is named in the Panama Papers, nor that KPMG has a long history of the fraudulent misrepresentation of its client’s books.  For example, KPMG is under investigation by US Senators Warren and Markey of Massachusetts for its part in facilitating the fraudulent representation of Wells Fargo accounts during the 2008 financial crisis.

The problem with KPMG is that it is currently under investigation by the CRA for its tax evasion projects on the Isle of Man.  This past week NDP leader Thomas Mulcair asked the following Question in the House of Commons:

“Five weeks after KPMG was ordered to maintain all records during an ongoing investigation, a group of offshore shell companies set up by KPMG went ahead and shredded documents related to that probe. This is the very definition of obstruction of justice.

Then the Liberals blocked the investigation into KPMG.

I am curious. Is there any other way the Liberal front bench can twist obstruction of justice and sweetheart deals for crooked billionaires into support for the middle class?”

Well, there may be one.  When the little crooked Trudeau-Morneau household runs into trouble with the law in Canada, it can always turn to its so-called opponents, the Conservative Party and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, to set-up meetings with giant US firms “Blackstone”, and its spin-off “Blackrock” – the largest private equity and assets management firms in the world – to raise some cash.

Mulroney happens to be on the Board of Blackstone, and his daughter Caroline, who just announced her interest in a “political career”, is married to Andrew Lapham, executive advisor to Blackstone based in Toronto.  It was through Mulroney that Trudeau arranged for Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s CEO, to advise the Liberal cabinet on relations with the new Trump administration. No doubt Blackstone’s connections with the Liberal Party will be of use when it comes to the pursuit of Canadian investment opportunities such as its current interest in the purchase of beleaguered mortgage lending firm Home Capital.

Not to be outdone, Blackrock’s global head of active equities, Mark Wiseman, has wormed his way onto Morneau’s economic growth advisory council.  In this capacity he organized Blackrock’s recent investor summit held in Toronto, to which Trudeau made his pitch for “leveraging private capital” in the form of a new Canadian public-private infrastructure bank.

Of course, Blackstone and Blackrock are also named in the Panama Papers.

Sadly, Canadians may never see any benefits from the circulation of all this international finance capital if it is ultimately destined for off shore tax havens. I guess this is what Marx meant when he said that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for the management of the affairs of the bourgeoisie”.

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Paul Bentley holds an MSc. (Econ) in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and an Ed. D. in the History and Philosophy of Education from the University of Toronto. He has worked as a History Teacher and Head of Department in Ontario High Schools for over 25 years. He is the author of Strange Journey: John R. Friedeberg Seeley and the Quest for Mental Health — Academic Studies Press.

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