Busi­ness­man vs. Blog­ger

Miaofei Pan al­leges ar­ti­cles false, dam­aged his rep­u­ta­tion metronews.ca

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - News - Jen st. De­nis

A defama­tion trial be­tween a Wechat blog­ger and a po­lit­i­cally con­nected Chi­nese-cana­dian busi­ness­man will re­sume Fri­day in Van­cou­ver.

Miaofei Pan, a busi­ness­man who has lived in Canada since 2006, al­leges that mul­ti­ple ar­ti­cles writ­ten by Van­cou­ver­area writer Bing Chen Gao are false and harmed his rep­u­ta­tion, in­clud­ing the loss of real es­tate ven­tures in Van­cou­ver’s Oakridge neigh­bour­hood and in Rich­mond. Pan tes­ti­fied he faced ques­tions from ac­quain­tances about Gao’s posts and be­came very de­pressed.

Gao, a blog­ger on the pop­u­lar Chi­nese so­cial me­dia plat­form Wechat, tes­ti­fied dur­ing the trial that it was im­por­tant to write about what he said he’d learned about Pan be­cause, he al­leged, “Chi­nese com­mu­nity lead­ers such as Miaofei Pan, peo­ple like that have ex­tremely close con­nec­tion with the Chi­nese govern­ment and the Chi­nese con­sulate … every­body is afraid to crit­i­cize them. And the over­seas Chi­nese me­dia (are) even more afraid to crit­i­cize them.”

De­spite rais­ing $69,000 from Van­cou­ver-area sup­port­ers last June for his le­gal case, Gao rep­re­sented him­self at the nine-day trial, say­ing he could not af­ford a lawyer be­cause the trial was in­creased from three days to nine. The trial by judge oc­curred in De­cem­ber 2017 and Metro re­viewed trial tran­scripts for this story.

In De­cem­ber 2016, the Tyee fol­lowed by the Globe and Mail re­ported on a con­tro­ver­sial $1,500 a plate po­lit­i­cal fundraiser Pan held in Van­cou­ver for the fed­eral Lib­eral Party, at­tended by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

Canada’s par­lia­men­tary ethics com­mis­sioner, Mary Daw­son, later in­ves­ti­gated such cash-forac­cess Lib­eral fundrais­ers, in­cluded the event hosted by Pan. She closed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion last Au­gust with no find­ings of wrong­do­ing and no rec­om­men­da­tions.

In his state­ment of claim, Pan iden­ti­fied sev­eral as­ser­tions Gao made in a se­ries of Wechat posts from 2016-17. Ac­cord­ing to court tran­scripts, Pan al­leged the fol­low­ing claims are false.

• Gao wrote that Pan had re­ceived $2,000 a month in Cana­dian child tax ben­e­fits for his four daugh­ters, which would nor­mally only avail­able to peo­ple mak­ing less than $30,000;

• Gao wrote that Pan had bought his way into lead­er­ship po­si­tions in two Chi­nese-cana­dian so­ci­eties with do­na­tions in the amounts of $400,000 and $50,000, im­ply­ing that these po­si­tions helped Pan get ac­cess to Cana­dian politi­cians;

• Gao wrote that a com­pany Pan owned in China had been in­volved with a home build­ing project that be­came fi­nan­cially in­sol­vent in 2015, lead­ing to protests by home­buy­ers in China who had lost money;

• Gao wrote that Pan and his wife, Wen­huan Yang, owe a to­tal of $8.3 mil­lion in taxes to the Chi­nese govern­ment.

Pan is seek­ing un­spec­i­fied dam­ages for what he al­leged is harm to his rep­u­ta­tion. Gao de­nies the posts are false and defam­a­tory.

Dur­ing the trial, Pan’s lawyers asked Gao whether he had sought out Pan to give his side of the story or to re­spond to spe­cific claims made in the posts. In his tes­ti­mony, Gao said he had not at­tempted to con­tact Pan to re­spond to the al­le­ga­tions in his Wechat posts, which he por­trayed as opin­ion pieces.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments and trial tran­scripts, Gao had based his posts about the child tax ben­e­fit on a story pub­lished by China Weekly, a Chi­nese pub­li­ca­tion. The story quoted a man named Yi An Wang, whom the China Weekly re­porter in­ter­viewed in a “five di­a­mond” ho­tel in the city of Zhe­jiang. Gao told the court he knew Yi An Wang and Miaofei Pan were the same per­son, be­cause sev­eral de­tails in­cluded in the China Weekly ar­ti­cle matched, in­clud­ing that Pan’s first wife was a court pros­e­cu­tor; that Pan had two sets of twin girls; and that Yi An Wang told a sim­i­lar story that Pan was also fond of telling, about be­ing helped by a po­lice of­fi­cer when he ran out of gas on the way to Whistler, B.C.

Pan de­nied he was the same per­son as Yi An Wang or that he had ever given an in­ter­view to China Weekly. His ac­coun­tant, Al­lan Yang, tes­ti­fied and pro­duced Pan’s tax re­turns, show­ing that while Pan did re­port a very low in­come — un­der $25,000 for both 2007 and 2010, for in­stance — he had never ap­plied for or re­ceived the Canada child tax ben­e­fit.

Pan tes­ti­fied he do­nated $400,000 to build a fa­cil­ity for the Wen­zhou As­so­ci­a­tion and “may have spent” $50,000 on the Cana­dian Al­liance of Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tions, but those do­na­tions were not con­nected to the lead­er­ship po­si­tions he took at both or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Pan tes­ti­fied he trans­ferred all his shares of the Linyang Real Es­tate Com­pany in 2006, long be­fore the Chi­nese com­pany ran into fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties that Pan ac­knowl­edged had “hurt the in­ter­est” of Chi­nese home­buy­ers.

But dur­ing his cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of Pan, Gao re­ferred to a record from the Chi­nese govern­ment’s In­dus­trial and Com­mer­cial reg­is­tra­tion that showed Pan still owned 77 per cent of shares in the com­pany, while his wife owned 23 per cent. Pan said the shares had not been of­fi­cially trans­ferred be­cause the new owner did not want to pay a share-trans­fer tax.

To jus­tify his al­le­ga­tion about Pan and Yang be­ing in debt to the Chi­nese govern­ment, Gao pro­duced records he said were from the web­site of China’s Supreme Court. But Pan’s lawyer ques­tioned whether the doc­u­ments from that on­line source were gen­uine and should be ad­mit­ted as ev­i­dence.

Metro was not able to de­ter­mine whether this is­sue was re­solved be­fore the trial ad­journed.

Jen­nifer Gau­thier/for Metro

The trial re­sumes Fri­day, with the de­fen­dant Bing Chen Gao rep­re­sent­ing him­self.

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