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HomeBusinessExclusive: Richmond’s Au calls pro-Beijing society’s political fundraising ceremony a “photo op”

Exclusive: Richmond’s Au calls pro-Beijing society’s political fundraising ceremony a “photo op”

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Bob Mackin

One of the candidates who attended a political fundraiser at a pro-Beijing society’s clubhouse in Richmond said no money changed hands at the event.

Richmond Community Coalition’s Chak Au, who is seeking a third term on city council in Saturday’s civic election, called the Aug. 26 ceremony at the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society a “photo op.”

Incumbent Richmond Coun. Chak Au at the Wen Zhou Friendship Society’s Aug. 26 ceremony (Wenzhouren.ca)

“We were told that they raised $26,000 altogether, by their individual members,” Au said in an interview at Richmond city hall on Oct. 16. “That was basically a photo op. They just asked us to say a few words about what they thought about the upcoming election and what we want to do if we become successful.”

Au was joined at the ceremony by Richmond mayoral candidate Hong Guo, city council candidates Melissa Zhang (RCC) and Peter Liu (Richmond First), plus Coalition Vancouver’s mayoral candidate Wai Young and council candidate Jason Xie, Vision Vancouver council candidate Wei Qiao Zhang, and Burnaby Citizens Association Coun. James Wang. The society’s website said it started the fundraising campaign on July 1. 

Au was the only one of the above candidates that has agreed to an interview. Au said he was not told how the money would be allotted among the candidates and that he is not involved in accepting RCC donations. That is the duty of the party’s financial agent, Aman Janjua, he said. 

“I did not know how much or who donated to the campaign. But there’s no individual money coming to me and I have not received any cheques whatsoever from them or any of their members,” Au said.

theBreaker reached Janjua, a senior manager at KPMG, for comment late in the afternoon on Oct. 16 and subsequently sent him a list of questions about the society’s donation and whether any of its directors had donated as individuals. He has yet to respond.

Au said later by text message that the financial agent confirmed to Elections BC “that no donations have come to RCC from Wenzhou Society, as under the new government regulations it is illegal.”

“I’ve always understood that non-profit societies are not supposed to donate, that is always the law,” Au said during the earlier interview. “So I think in the past we have received corporate donations, but I know the law has changed, it’s only individuals [allowed to donate].”

The society has not responded to email from theBreaker. There is no answer on the society’s phone numbers. theBreaker has visited the clubhouse twice, but nobody has answered the door. 

The same society’s WeChat account sparked an RCMP investigation into vote-buying, after it published a list of recommended candidates, including Au, and offered a $20 “transportation subsidy.” The controversy prompted Au’s slate, the Richmond Community Coalition, to call on Chinese activist groups to “respectfully stop lobbying Chinese voters to mark their ballots only for Chinese candidates.”

“It’s one thing that people want to get involved, we should encourage that,” Au said. “It’s another thing that they have to follow the rules and understand the rules.”

Campaign signs outside the Wen Zhou Friendship Society near Aberdeen Centre (Mackin)

The society is officially registered in B.C. as Wen Zhou Friendship Society. It was dissolved for failure to file a report on July 22, but restored on Oct. 5. The directors are You Zhao Feng, Zheng Ke Long and Zhu Jian Guo of Vancouver and Zhang Guan Hui of Richmond.

You is also a director of the Canada Wenzhou Business Association, which was registered to “pool the wisdom and strength of immigrants from Wenzhou; To establish an investment platform; and To promote economic exchanges between Canada and China.” Pan Miaofei is a $400,000 donor to the society and was on the board until May 2017. The society’s website said he attended the August donation ceremony.

Au said he had met You and Pan in social occasions, but does not have intimate knowledge of the society. Pan hosted a private fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at one of his local mansions in 2016. In October 2017, his heritage Shaughnessy mansion suffered a fire that was ruled an arson. Nobody has been charged.

“They’re one of the hundreds of associations that we have contact with. I don’t know the persons at the association deeply,” Au said. “It is quite common in the Chinese community they have the kinsmen’s association plus a business association and sometimes it’s overlapping in terms of directorship.”

U.S., Australian and Canadian authorities have cautioned about Chinese government attempts to influence local government elections through pro-Beijing business and expat organizations in a coordinated program overseen by the Communist Party of China’s United Front Work Department.

“Yes, I’ve read about those stories, but I don’t know how true they are and personally I’m not connected or being influenced,” Au said.

Su Bo, the vice-minister of United Front, attended the Vancouver-hosted 9th Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation last May, according to documents released to theBreaker under freedom of information. The event highlighted the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s massive, multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure-building program that extends to Africa and Europe.

Incumbent Chak Au (Mackin)

Au said he attended the conference to promote Richmond as a destination for overseas Chinese to invest and do business. “[Mayor] Malcolm [Brodie] and I were invited to the event. It was really to promote Richmond, rather than the other way around.”

Au is a family therapist who came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1988. He said that “we cannot directly influence China,” but said he is proud of Canadian values of human rights and democracy.

Asked if he would acknowledge China has human rights problems, he said that “every society has their own problems; Canada is not perfect.”

“Look at our record on the First Nations. Working towards common understanding and reconciliation is important,” he said.

Guo, who is aiming to defeat incumbent Brodie, told theBreaker on Oct. 2 that China has no human rights problem and that reporters enjoy freedom of speech, contrary to the reams of evidence gathered over decades by Human Rights Now, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Asked for his opinion of Guo, Au said “voters have to make their own judgment.”

Richmond candidates have a lot on their minds, from the proliferation of mansions on farmland and birth tourism to a lack of English on signage, high land values and money laundering at River Rock casino. Au said he is saddened because this election is the “most-unpleasant” he has encountered.

“I’ve seen my community be more divided or polarized, and this is exactly what I don’t want to see happen,” he said.

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