Casino sus­pect's po­lit­i­cal cir­cles

AL­LEGED MAS­TER­MIND MET TWICE WITH PM AT FUNDRAISER, CUL­TURAL DEL­E­GA­TION

Vancouver Sun - - NP - TOM BLACKWELL

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.

YORK RE­GIONAL PO­LICE

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.

CHINA CUL­TURAL IN­DUS­TRY AS­SO­CI­A­TION

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.

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