Federal Liberals were told wealthy donor was China graft suspect

The Liberal Party of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was tipped off in 2013 that a wealthy party benefactor was wanted by China for corruption, long before the news became public, in an email that has been leaked to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) by a former Liberal party executive.

The former executive said they were assured at the time that the anonymous email and its startling claims about Vancouver developer Michael Ching Mo Yeung had been “dealt with.” But the party kept quiet and continued to accept donations and support from Ching and a pro-Trudeau political organization, Tru-Youths United Association, set up in his office.

It accepted thousands of dollars from Ching in 2014 and 2015, while Tru-Youths helped stage massive Liberal fundraisers, including a 1,300-seat event in Toronto in June 2014.

It was not until April 2015 that the SCMP broke the news that Ching was in fact Cheng Muyang, the wanted son of corrupt Chinese Communist party official Cheng Weigao.

Yet on December 15, 2013, the executive was among a group of Liberals who received a 1,500-word email from an anonymous tipster, identified only as “Snow White.” Ching’s teenage daughter, Linda, had just been elected unopposed as president of the BC Young Liberals, to the apparent concern of the emailer.

The email, in slightly stilted English and Chinese, included a photo of Cheng Muyang as a young man, and pointed out how a mole on his eyebrow matched the same feature on Michael Ching, whose ongoing court battle for refugee status was already well underway.

The former Liberal executive provided the email on condition of anonymity. The source said it was not known for certain who else received the email, but multiple Liberal figures became aware of it.

The source named Alyx Holland – now working for the minister of public safety – as one of the party staffers who saw the email, and added that Jeremy Broadhurst was also aware of the email. Then executive director of the party, Broadhurst is now deputy chief of staff and principal secretary to the prime minister.

The email also detailed Ching’s relationship with his friend Raymond Chan, the former Liberal cabinet minister who is still seen as a kingmaker and key fundraiser in Chinese Liberal circles.

It described how Linda Ching had been selected to play “high-profile roles” with Trudeau in attendance. These included introducing him to the national media at a Richmond press conference after he announced his leadership run in 2012, and hosting a 1,000-seat fundraiser at the Vancouver Hyatt in August 2013.

Trudeau sat between Michael Ching and Chan at the event, which Tru-Youths helped run and is believed to have raised a six-figure sum for.

“Every time when Justin Trudeau was in town to meet with the Chinese media, there would be no others than Raymond Chan and Linda Ching on his side,” the “Snow White” email said.

Broadhurst did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Holland did not respond to a voice mail. Asked to respond on their behalf, Liberal communications director Braeden Caley did not reply.

But a Liberal spokeswoman said: “The party has previously reviewed matters referenced by the South China Morning Post and is confident that all Elections Canada rules have been fully respected.”

Ching’s lawyer, David Lunny, has requested that the SCMP no longer contact his office or his client.

‘Cash for access’ and the dismissed email

If the party was concerned by the 2013 email, this was not reflected in its public attitude toward the Chings.

In 2014 and 2015, Michael Ching would donate about $3,600 to the party and its candidates.

Although Ching was personally limited in his donations by federal contribution caps – currently $1,550 per year per party and candidate – the Tru-Youths group that was based in his office and headed by Linda Ching helped orchestrate large-scale Chinese community events for the party that are believed to have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Just two days after the email was sent, Trudeau attended a 2,000-seat dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver that turned into a birthday party for the guest of honour. The December 17, 2013, event was attended by both Linda and Michael Ching, hosted by their Tru-Youths organization, and MCed by Chan. After cutting a cake, Trudeau posed for a photo with scores of cheering Tru-Youths volunteers in matching red vests.

On June 15, 2014, more than 200 Tru-Youths helped stage a Liberal fundraising gala at the Toronto Sheraton Centre Hotel that was reportedly attended by 1,300 people, mainly from the Chinese community. Michael and Linda Ching travelled to Toronto to take part, with Michael Ching among the dignitaries invited onstage with Trudeau.

The Young Canadian Chinese Professionals and Entrepreneurs Association published an account of the event that praised the Tru-Youths volunteers for their role. “Energetic, capable and enthusiastic, they were highly praised by Mr. Trudeau and the guests. They are the shining example of what a new generation of Chinese youths should be like,” it said.

Chan’s wife, Wang Ting Ting, whose business card described her as the Liberal Party’s “special adviser” for the Chinese community, was a director of Tru-Youths.

The SCMP concluded independently in 2015 that Ching was Cheng Muyang; to its knowledge, it has never had contact with “Snow White.” The Yahoo email address used by “Snow White” is now defunct.

The metadata on a PDF version of the “Snow White” email that was included as an attachment shows that it was created on December 7, 2013.

A text portion at the top of the email says it is being sent to “Canadian Parliament, Canadian Senator, Canadian Liberal Party, Canadian NDP Party, Canadian Conservative Party, Canadian Medias.”

Trudeau is currently embroiled in a “cash for access” row over fundraisers involving Chinese immigrant business figures, notably including a private dinner at a Toronto mansion in May that was attended by “several Chinese billionaires,” according to the Globe and Mail.

The former Liberal executive said the “cash for access” row is a reflection of the same attitudes towards donors that resulted in the “Snow White” email being apparently dismissed. There was a reluctance to change the Liberal fundraising model, which relied heavily on dinners and other events at which donors would pay to get close to the party’s stars.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with Ian Young by email at ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.

Read the original article on the South China Morning Post.