Paul Oei is a prominent businessman and socialite in Vancouver’s Chinese community, who impressed by driving expensive cars, rubbing elbows with politicians and donating to charities.
So said the lawyer prosecuting fraud charges against BC Liberal donor Oei in front of a B.C. Securities Commission tribunal on April 10.
Mila Pivnenko, representing BCSC executive director Peter Brady, told the tribunal that Oei ran a fraudulent scheme connected to the sale of shares in Cascade Renewable Carbon Corp., Cascade Renewable Organic Fertilizer Corp., and Organic Eco-Centre Corp.
Pivnenko alleged that Oei used two numbered companies and his Canadian Manu Immigration and Financial Services Inc. to raise $13.3 million from 64 investors, but he used $6.9 million for himself.
Oei met Gerald Salberg in 2009 and Oei agreed to raise money in the Chinese community to help Salberg build a plant to recycle organic waste into topsoil and fertilizer. But Pivnenko said Oei kept his investors in the dark and exploited their lack of understanding of English and the Canadian investment process.
“How was Mr. Oei able to keep more than half of the investors’ money and not be caught? Paul Oei exploited the looseness of his arrangement with Cascade management, various weaknesses of the investors, and by layering investor funds with his personal funds and those of his other businesses,” Pivnenko said.
“Oei tailored his sales pitch to what would be most persuasive to each investor. He told investors that the Cascade investment was approved by the B.C. government,” she said. “He told some investors who wanted to immigrate to Canada that they could immigrate if they invested in the Cascade project.”
Oei and Salberg had a falling out in 2012. Oei took over the company, but Cascade Renewable Carbon Corp. declared bankruptcy in May 2013.
The hearing couldn’t come at a worse time for the incumbent BC Liberals. The hearing began the day before the provincial election writ is issued and the case involves immigration consultant Oei, who paid for access to Premier Christy Clark and told investors that his company was endorsed by her government.
Elections BC’s database shows that Oei donated $55,787.85 between 2011-2015 to the BC Liberals, plus $680 through his Canadian Manu Immigration and Financial Services Inc. His wife, Loretta Lai, gave the party $13,565 between 2012 and 2016.
Pivnenko said in her opening statements that Oei took advantage of his investors who spoke little or no English and were unaware of Canadian investing regulations. She said Oei layered funds and used many accounts, and that he commingled investors funds with his personal funds.
Oei boasted in interviews with Chinese media outlets that he wanted to build 100 composting plants.
Pivnenko said nine investors would be called to testify. The case will be complicated by the death two weeks ago of BCSC star witness Salberg. Pivnenko said he was interviewed under oath a year and a half ago and she would submit a transcript for the panel’s consideration.
Defence lawyer Teresa Tomchak said Oei denied the allegations and mentioned Joe Peschisolido as the lawyer who gave advice and drew up documents for investors. She said evidence will be introduced to show Oei’s ex-business partner, the late Salberg, was terminated for mismanaging investors’ funds.
“So, the respondents agree that Mr. Oei was the guiding mind of all of the respondents.
However, they say that he solicited investments on behalf of Cascade in a manner that accorded with his agreement with Cascade and pursuant to legal advice,” Tomchak said. “The respondents deny that Mr. Oei made the representations that are alleged in the Notice of Hearing.”
She said Oei denies using investor funds on expenses unrelated to Cascade.
“The respondents say that they, in fact, used funds in excess of $13.3 million in relation to Cascade. And the respondents say that they used the Canadian Manu bank accounts to receive investors’ money in accordance with the instructions from those investors.”
Oei, Lai and Peschisolido were named in a March 2014 lawsuit by Cascade investors Wei Chen and Junping Zhen, who claim they were victims of fraud and breach of trust.
Peschisolido is a Richmond Liberal MP elected in 2015 and has denied any wrongdoing.
Chen and Zhen claim Oei told them his scheme was supported by the B.C. government.
Before the hearing, theBreaker asked Oei for comment on both the case against him and his BC Liberal donations. He declined.
The hearing is scheduled to run through April 25.