Casino suspect's political circles
ALLEGED MASTERMIND MET TWICE WITH PM AT FUNDRAISER, CULTURAL DELEGATION
The news that emerged last week about Wei Wei and his mansion grabbed attention. Police announced the Toronto-area real estate developer had been charged after officers raided a lavish, well-armed and illegal casino that was uniquely located inside a sprawling mansion.
Wei is alleged to have been the mastermind behind the high-end “Mackenzie No. 5 Club,” where police seized an assault rifle from his bedroom, gaming tables and over $1 million in cash.
“The money moving through these underground casinos leads to huge profits for criminals that fund other ventures such as prostitution and drug trafficking,” York Regional Police said in a statement last week.
Not long ago, however, the businessman accused of being at the centre of it all was moving in some of Canada's loftiest business and political circles, partly as an advocate for China.
Wei met at least twice in 2016 with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including at a controversial Liberal fundraiser in the home of another wealthy entrepreneur.
Wei also was among a delegation of four representing a Chinese-government-endorsed industry group that met separately with Trudeau. Another member of the delegation donated $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation and the erection of a statue honouring the prime minister's father.
Both the fundraising event and the gift fed a controversy over alleged cash-for-access schemes that gave rich donors face time with Trudeau. The uproar prompted the Liberals to reform their fundraising rules.
Liberal spokesman Matteo Rossi did not address questions about Wei specifically, but said the party now has the toughest and most transparent standards for fundraising in federal politics. That includes allowing media coverage of events and hosting them in publicly accessible spaces.
“As his party's new leader, it's time that Erin O'Toole also did the right thing and committed to stop barring journalists from the Conservative party's behind-closed-doors fundraising events,” said Rossi.
York Regional Police painted an eye- opening picture of the underground casino they found in the suburbs north of Toronto. Wei and his wife, Xing Yue Chen, bought the opulent, 20,000-square-foot estate in 2015 for $4.7 million, with a mortgage of $3 million, property records indicate. Police say it's now worth $9 million.
As part of a series of raids carried out in July, but only announced last week, officers seized $1.5 million in high-quality liquor and wine and 11 guns as well as gambling equipment.
The house appeared to have bedrooms for the use of its clients, and allegedly may have been trafficking women for prostitution, officers said. Police who had approached the home earlier allegedly faced intimidation from guards posted there, they said.
Wei, 52, his wife, 48, and 25-year-old daughter were charged with keeping a common gaming house and other offences.
But the operation's existence was not exactly a closely held secret. The National Post obtained an elegantly printed invitation from Wei that announced a “soft opening cocktail party” for what it called the “Mackenzie No. 5 Club.”
Hundreds of people attended the event in November 2019, including a number of local politicians, said an acquaintance of Wei's who asked not to be named. She remembers lineups of people waiting to take selfies with the “VIPs.”
Though the source did not notice formal casino equipment, she said she saw many of the guests playing cards and gambling there.
How Wei went from a well-connected property developer to an alleged black-market gaming boss is not clear. Wei couldn't be reached for comment, but he came to Canada about 10 years ago under the investor-immigrant program, said the source. As head of Skywalk Investment, he's known as a real estate developer, serving on a committee of the Canada-China Realty Professional Association, which says it is dedicated to encouraging development and investment opportunities in the two countries.
A person named Wei Wei owns almost 50 properties in Toronto alone, land-registry records indicate.
At the May 2016 Liberal fundraiser hosted by fellow businessman Benson Wong, he is pictured in a group photo two down from Trudeau.
Guests were charged $1,500 to attend, according to reports at the time, sparking accusations that the party was peddling access to the prime minister. Among the guests — though as a foreign citizen purportedly not making a donation — was Chinese mogul Zhang Bin. Weeks later, Zhang and another Chinese tycoon donated $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation, named after the prime minister's father, and the University of Montreal law school. Most of the money was earmarked for student grants, but some was to be used to erect a statue to the late Pierre Trudeau.
Zhang is also president of the China Cultural Industry Association, tasked with developing cultural businesses. The same month as the fundraiser, Wei joined Zhang and two others in representing the association at another session with Trudeau, this time to discuss cultural exchanges between the countries, according to the group's website.
Elections Canada lists only three donations to the Liberal party for a person named Wei Wei. One was to the Markham-Thornhill riding association for $551, dated May 16, 2016, of that year, about the time of the Trudeau event.
Wei also seems to have been involved in groups with apparent ties to the Chinese government. He was a founding director of the Heifei Friendship Association in Canada and, said the source, has been involved in the Anhui Community Association of Canada. The latter group signed a controversial ad last year with several other Chinese-Canadian organizations. It backed the Hong Kong government in its conflict with democracy protesters, using similar language to Beijing's.
Police execute a search warrant in July at a $9-million mansion in Markham, Ont., they allege was being operated as a high-end illegal casino.
Businessman Wei Wei, left, at a meeting between delegates of the Chinese government-run China Cultural Industry Association and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. Wei was recently charged with running a high-end, illegal casino out of a mansion in Markham, Ont.