Rich foreigners seeking to gain Canadian residency through a controversial Quebec program are being advised to hide questionable assets, lie about their intention to settle in the province and even adopt a new identity, according to a hidden-camera investigation by Radio-Canada.
Immigration consultants reveal they’ve advised clients to do things like change their name, shift funds to accounts in the Caribbean and not declare them to tax authorities or immigration agents.
“We have a lot of clients who have a lot of assets who do this,” said one consultant at one of the biggest firms in the industry, in a conversation captured on hidden camera.
The revelations pose troubling questions for the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program (QIIP), a special immigration track under which foreigners with at least $2 million in assets can get Canadian residency for themselves and their family if they agree to loan $1.2 million to the Quebec government.
Last year alone, more than 5,000 people obtained permanent residency through the program. Typically, two-thirds of those accepted each year come from mainland China.
Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête went undercover at the offices of five immigration consultancies based in Hong Kong, the city where, up until last year, all Chinese QIIP applications were handled. Four other firms were called by phone. All these firms help candidates with their applications before they send them to the government.
A Hong Kong chef was hired to pose as “Mr. Chen,” a supposed businessman whose $10-million fortune came from suspicious sources. Mr. Chen told consultants he made his money operating a factory, but all the paperwork to prove this had been destroyed. He also said he ran a pawnshop that charged illegally high interest rates and dealt only in cash, and that he hadn’t declared a chunk of his assets to Chinese tax authorities.
Much of that didn’t seem to matter to many of the immigration consultants.
“We’ve helped clients with even greyer areas,” said an agent at Globevisa, one of the biggest immigrant-investor consultancies in the world.
She recommended Mr. Chen acquire a second citizenship before applying to Quebec:
“We have seven passports. These are all legal. Two are European identities, others are Caribbean — there are five. Those are simply to get an identity in case you have to flee, or if you want to hide your assets,” said the consultant, who didn’t know she was being recorded.
“You change your name to Bruce Lee. You can use this Bruce Lee identity to hold this. They won’t be able to check.”
The consultant claimed clients with a criminal record had previously used this scheme to pass security checks.
‘This is bad’
At another firm, the Hong Kong offices of Harvey Law Group, founded by Canadian Jean-François Harvey, a representative tells Mr. Chen that “it’s normal” to not declare all assets.
“You want to disclose the minimum possible, right? Right. OK, yes, it’s possible,” she said on hidden camera:
“We have a lot of clients like that. It’s actually really normal.”
This consultant, too, suggested acquiring status in a Caribbean jurisdiction so that Mr. Chen could camouflage part of his wealth — not only from Quebec’s immigration officers, but also from Chinese tax authorities.
“[The] Caribbean passport also gives him a new TIN number — so a tax identity number. So that could be useful for him, too,” she said on hidden camera.
“One of the Caribbean countr[ies] does not have a treaty with China. So you get a new tax identity but you don’t need to declare to [the] Chinese government all those assets.”
In a statement, Globevisa said there was “practically no chance that your ‘Mr. Chen’ would have been taken on” as a client.
“No … consultant wants to take on a case which is problematic and which has a high risk of failure,” it continued.
When Radio-Canada showed the footage of his employee explaining ways to get around the rules to Jean-François Harvey, he expressed shock and dismay.
“This is bad…. You’ve opened my eyes,” he told Enquête. “There’s things being said here that shouldn’t be.”
But Harvey added that any potential client would have met with a lawyer after initially dealing with the consultant. The lawyer would catch the problems with Mr. Chen’s file at that point, he said.
After his interview with Radio-Canada, Harvey said he fired the employee caught on video.
In all, four of the nine immigration consultancies approached by Mr. Chen advised him not to declare any assets of dubious origin.
But that goes against the rules of the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program, which requires applicants to list all their assets — and ostensibly rejects candidates whose wealth may not be legitimately sourced.
Nor did it seem to matter to most of the Hong Kong-based consultants that Mr. Chen said he had no intention to actually take up residence in Quebec — another requirement of the immigrant investor program.
“If they ask you, it’s best if you don’t answer so honestly. Don’t tell them so plainly you don’t plan to stay there,” the Globevisa consultant advised.
All but one of the consultants told Mr. Chen he could settle elsewhere in Canada, but that he should not to disclose this intention to Canadian immigration authorities.
Quebec immigration lawyer Hugue Langlais said Radio-Canada’s hidden-camera footage casts doubt on the integrity of QIIP and its vetting process.
“If it’s possible to openly get around it, then we’re giving people who might commit fraud, or who have committed fraud, the chance to obtain Canadian residency,” he said.
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